An Atlanta-based non-profit organization that helps restaurant workers facing financial need while they recover from an accident, unanticipated illness or natural disaster has moved into Columbus.
The Giving Kitchen, which has operated for five years exclusively in Metro Atlanta, has expanded its reach into Columbus.
Through grants, The Giving Kitchen assists restaurant workers with living expenses while they deal with their unexpected issues.
Columbus Chef Nick Woodham knows firsthand the benefits of Giving Kitchen.
“The Giving Kitchen is a family,” Woodham said. “It is a group of people taking care of their own. Restaurant workers don’t have an opportunity to have health insurance or other types of benefits. What they offer is a safety net. Something to help you in your time of need.”
And Woodham fell into that safety net in 2015 when he was working at an Atlanta restaurant and was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in less than two years.
“The Giving Kitchen was there for me,” he said. “As soon as they found out about my case, it wasn’t a week or two later that I started receiving benefits. They truly come from a kind and organic place.”
Over four months while he was seeking treatment at the John B. Amos Cancer Center in Columbus, The Giving Kitchen paid Woodham’s portion of the rent and his utility bills. He received almost $4,000 from the organization. But he also had peace of mind knowing he had a place to live while he was fighting the cancer.
Now that Woodham is back working in Columbus, he is pleased The Giving Kitchen is expanding into this community.
“As our restaurant community is starting to grow, we’re going to create a need for organizations like this to help the young culinary workers in Columbus,” Woodham said.
Katie Bishop, co-founder of Yalla Public Relations, is one of the reasons The Giving Kitchen is moving into west Georgia. The organization sprang out of the desire to help Jen and Ryan Hidinger as he battled Stage IV gall bladder cancer in 2012. Staplehouse, an Atlanta restaurant which is a for-profit subsidary of The Giving Kitchen run by the Hidingers, is a product of the effort.
“I first heard about The Giving Kitchen as I was flipping through Bon Appetite Magazine,” Bishop said. “Staplehouse had just been named the nation’s top restaurant of the year. I was moved by their story and became somewhat obsessed with their organization.”
Bishop and her Yalla Public Relations partner, Stephanie Woodham, were instrumental in bringing The Giving Kitchen to Columbus.
“Stephanie and I know how important restaurants are for not only locals, but for tourism,” said Bishop, who will be co-chair of The Giving Kitchen in Columbus. “And in order to have successful, long-standing restaurants, your staff has to be happy. This is a unique organization whose main goal is to assist food and beverage industry workers who are in need.”
The Giving Kitchen raises the funds through profits from Staplehouse, fund-raisers and donations.
Last year, the organization extended 413 grants for more than $550,000. The Giving Kitchen also provided $55,000 in grants for workers impacted by Hurricane Irma.
Two weeks ago, The Giving Kitchen Executive Director Bryan Schroeder and board President Ryan Turner made the pitch to local restaurant owners.
They found a receptive audience.
Miles Greathouse, a partner in Nonic, a beer bar and restaurant in downtown Columbus, has been aware of The Giving Kitchen since 2014. Like many who deal with the organization, he was looking for the catch.
“I don’t think there is a catch, and I have been looking for one for the past three, three and half years,” Greathouse said. “... It seems like one of those things that is just too good to be true, but it’s not. It is one of those great, awesome things, and we are really fortunate they have chosen Columbus to be its next project.”
Trevor Morris, owner of Trevioli Italian Kitchen in north Columbus, also was looking for the catch.
“The first thing I did when it was over was walk up to Bryan,” Morris said on Wednesday. “I told him, ‘this is great, but what’s the catch? Where do I send my money? How much do I have to give you?’ He laughed and said, ‘There’s no catch.’ ”
Morris went back and told the 25-30 people who work in his restaurant about the program and what it offers to workers during a time of need.
“Using Nick Woodham as an example of what this program can do, drove it home for me,” Morris said.
The Giving Kitchen is an organization that is growing, changing and expanding, Schroeder said.
“We have just changed our mission statement to go from being just an Atlanta-focused non-profit organization to being a non-profit one day, when we have the capacity, will serve all over the country,” Schroeder said.
The first stop in that expansion out of Atlanta is Columbus, a community that reached out to the organization.
“Being in Columbus is great, because we can point to the large duck up the road and say it’s like an unexpected Aflac that is coming into your restaurant employee’s life,” Schroeder said, drawing a comparison to Columbus-based supplemental insurance company Aflac that pays policy holders cash for expenses when a medical need arises.
The difference with The Giving Kitchen is it is not an insurance policy, but a charity that comes in when there is a need.
“Normally, what we pay is rent, water, electricity; sometimes we will reimburse funeral expenses,” Schroeder said. “If a tree falls on your house, we may pay for the new lease. Sometimes we will help pay expenses related to a natural disaster.”