The Giving Kitchen

The restaurant industry attracts a wide range of workers, from those dedicated to careers in hospitality to those just trying to make ends meet. Servers who rely on tips for income often experience fluctuating incomes that can make keeping funds on hand for rainy days difficult. When injury, illness, natural disaster, or a death in the family prevent a restaurant employee in the Atlanta area from working, The Giving Kitchen steps in to offer financial aid and peace of mind.

Giving Beginnings

In late 2012, Chef Ryan Hidinger was riding a wave of acclaim for his work in well-known Atlanta eateries like Bacchanalia and Floataway Café. Along with his wife Jen, he also operated an underground supper club called Prelude to Staplehouse. So, it was huge news in the city’s culinary world when Ryan was diagnosed with stage IV gall bladder cancer and told he likely only had 6 more months to live. The local restaurant community responded with both emotional and financial support, putting together a fundraiser, dubbed Team Hidi, to help cover the costs of treatment that insurance wouldn’t cover. The effort was tremendously successful, with almost 800 people turning out to show their support and raise $275,000, significantly more than the total of Ryan’s medical bills.

Ryan and Jen had long planned to open Staplehouse as a permanent eatery, and in the months following his diagnosis, those plans moved forward with establishing the for-profit restaurant that would feed all of its profits into an associated non-profit: The Giving Kitchen. The organization offers grants to struggling restaurant workers, the first of which were funded by the extra money from Team Hidi.

Ryan Hidinger passed away in January 2014, but he left behind the foundations of some big things– Staplehouse opened in 2015, and The Giving Kitchen has grown each year. In its first year, it helped 150 grant recipients, a number that grew to 417 in 2017.

“The situation sucked so bad, we wanted it to be something good. This is not my retirement job. This is about being sure people are taken care of.” –Ryan Hidinger

A Helping Hand

The Giving Kitchen makes use of several programs to offer assistance to members of the local restaurant community who have suffered an injury, illness, disaster, or a death in the family. We spoke with Amanda Newsom, the organization’s marketing and communications director, about what those programs are and how they’re able to help those in the restaurant industry when they hit hard times.

“[The Giving Kitchen] started by offering Crisis Grants to eligible restaurant workers who applied for assistance due to illness, injury, disaster, or funeral,” says Newsom. “Our Crisis Grant program encompasses both our Direct Grant and Matching Grant, [and] an applicant may be eligible to receive one or both. Direct Grants are used to pay for rent or mortgage; utilities like power, gas, or water; or funeral expenses up to $2,500. Matching Grants allow the worker’s restaurant to raise money on behalf of the applicant to use however they need it, and we may match it up to $2,500.”

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Because applicants sometimes need more than monetary assistance, The Giving Kitchen also has a program called SafetyNet, which connects restaurant industry workers to social services that can assist with their specific needs. Some of these programs help with housing, transportation, child care, mental health, and medical care.

“Our SafetyNet program is our network of community resources. Though we’ve been helping to refer applicants for years to other resources, we just added the SafetyNet program in 2017,” explains Newsom. “When a restaurant worker reaches out needing help, SafetyNet allows us to have a way to refer them to services that can get them through their time of need whether they qualify for a Crisis Grant or not. It really brings our mission full circle so that we rarely have to turn away any restaurant workers who need help.”

In the years since The Giving Kitchen was established, the organization has streamlined its methods for determining which applicants qualify for its services.

“There is a list of criteria that we follow to determine whether a restaurant worker is eligible for a Crisis Grant, including defining what a restaurant is, the types of crisis we support, and so on,” says Newsom. “We even have an in-house flow chart that we use to track every application that allows us to make the process more efficient, as well. The average grant takes three weeks to process from start to finish, though we can make exceptions for emergency situations.”

Funding for these programs come from multiple sources, including the profits from Staplehouse, donations from individuals, corporate sponsors, third-party events, employee giving programs, and marketing partnerships, such as the one with SweetWater Brewing Company.

“SweetWater Brewing Company came together with Ryan Hidinger to create Second Helping, an IPA brewed with juniper berries to benefit The Giving Kitchen, and it’s been available every year since,” explains Newsom. “Over the past five years, we’ve been able to raise over $320,000 thanks to this incredible partnership with SweetWater.”

The Giving Kitchen also holds fundraisers called Signature Events, like the one scheduled for May to celebrate its fifth anniversary. Jen and the organizers are taking the effort back to its roots with the GK Supper Club, which offers the opportunity to host a dinner including foods inspired by some of Ryan’s recipes. There are even meal kits that provide servings for four to 10 people.

“It’s a way for our supporters to bring The Giving Kitchen into their kitchen by hosting guests in their home and asking them to contribute to [The Giving Kitchen] instead of throwing into the pot for dinner,” explains Newsom. “Creature Comforts Brewing Company is our presenting sponsor and has drafted beer pairings with GK Supper Club PeachDish meal and hors d’oeuvres kits inspired by Ryan Hidinger’s Prelude to Staplehouse recipes.”

In an effort to help more restaurant workers, The Giving Kitchen’s staff has plans to increase both the number of grants approved each year and the organization’s operating area, with designs on helping people throughout the state of Georgia.

“[The Giving Kitchen] expanded into the Athens area in 2017, we’re expanding into the Columbus area this year, and our goal is to be able to serve the entire state of Georgia by 2020!”

Visit The Giving Kitchen‘s website to learn more, make a donation, or apply for assistance.

Courtney Barkley
Courtney Barkley

Courtney Barkley has lived in nearly as many southeastern states as most Americans have probably visited, settling in East Tennessee in early 2013. She and her husband Thomas were married during ShadoCon 2012 – an anime, gaming, and comics convention – in a ceremony that featured a reading about dinosaurs in love from a friend dressed as Doctor Who. She spends her free time chasing her brilliant and imaginative son Nathan, hanging out with friends, binge-watching shows, playing video games, and keeping up with the characters of the Marvel Universe. And, any chance she gets, she sneaks off to Florida to visit friends and the happiest place on earth – Disney World.

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