A HOPE MOVEMENT: Non-profit Serves Struggling Workers in the Restaurant and Hospitality Industry

SERVING THOSE WHO SERVE US. In 2009, Big Table launched in Spokane for a simple reason. There wasn’t a single non-profit nationally caring for those working in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Not one. Out of 1.5 million non-profits registered with the IRS. Big Table now stands in that gap – serving hope locally to those who serve us in Spokane, as well as recently expanding to include those in the Palouse.

NEED HIDDEN BEHIND SMILES. Even before the pandemic hit, the restaurant and hospitality industry was not only one of the largest in the nation but also the lowest rung on the employment ladder with the highest concentration of the most vulnerable demographics in our community: single parents, at-risk teens, immigrants, income insecure seniors, and those rebuilding their lives after incarceration. Nearly half of those working in restaurants live barely above the official poverty line bringing with it entrenched hopelessness and the highest levels of addiction, chronic stress, pervasive mental health struggles, and broken relationships.

spokane chefs
Spokane Chefs serving at Industry Dinner. Left to right – Travis Dickinson of Cochinito, Kristina Stephenson pastry chef at Northern Quest, Aaron Fish of Eat Good Group.

“What we really do is serve hope,” says Big Table’s Executive Director and founder, Kevin Finch. “We respond quickly with triage crisis care and then provide ongoing relational support and mentoring – building capacity in their lives.”

WHAT HOPE LOOKS LIKE. Think rent to keep a family from being evicted, groceries to keep a family fed, support to see a therapist, help with medical bills, a bus pass, or car repair to keep someone from losing their job. Every care referral that comes in is different. But the pain is the same – hard-working people just struggling to get by. Spokane City Director Chris Deitz began his career as a chef and knows the unique challenges industry workers face every day. “I watched friends struggle, relapse, or be unable to make bills and am now in a position to say, ‘We’re here for you – let’s do something about it.’”

A COMMUNITY COMING TOGETHER. Big Table works with other non-profits and care partners including doctors, dentists, therapists, auto mechanics, and lawyers to uniquely address needs in all areas of a person’s life including job readiness, food and housing stability, addiction recovery, medical and dental care, mental and emotional support, and legal service. The goal is to catch people before they fall, building intentional relationships, and offering direction and hope.

CARING FOR ONE ANOTHER. Big Table uses a unique referral model, not a hot-line model. “Some of the folks most in need would never ask for help for themselves. We use a referral from someone who knows them like a manager, co-worker, or friend,” Finch explained. Big Table’s innovative referral model leverages personal ties, provides accountability, and ensures that the care is personal and intentional.

Big Table’s unique approach to care is many times life changing. That was the case for Danielle.

chef cooking

A SMILE FOR A NEW LIFE. Danielle has worked her way up into an Assistant Manager position at a local quick service restaurant, but only after battling back from depression and drug addiction that had haunted her for years following a traumatic incident nearly a decade ago. The drug use coupled with no dental care for nearly 13 years resulted in Danielle’s teeth decaying and falling out. Danielle was referred to Big Table by a co-worker who saw past her broken smile to her determined spirit. Our team partnered with a local dentist (Dr. Ryan R. Love DDS) so Danielle could receive extractions and then a full set of beautiful dentures to restore hope to her smile. When Dr. Love held up the mirror, she was instantly overwhelmed and grateful. “It was like looking at a whole different person… thank you for changing my life.” Watch Danielle’s story here: https://youtu.be/pUtmJqaZ1S8

Walking alongside workers in crisis deeply impacts the care teams, too. Jenni Warren, Spokane’s Care Director, shares the incredible privilege it is to walk alongside people like Danielle. “Witnessing care recipients’ reactions to receiving support is powerful because they feel seen and valued by strangers offering hope. It is an honor to be invited into people’s stories.”

A SEAT AT THE ACTUAL “BIG” TABLE. Big Table Industry Dinners are an immersive care experience around the real “big” table that seats 48. It is an opportunity to invite those in the industry who’ve served others day in and day out to pull up a chair, so they can be served for a night. They are treated to a six or seven-course meal graciously prepared by their industry peers. “It’s a big, crowded, joyous table where community is built several times a year,” Deitz shared. The evening ends with the opportunity for guests to “pay it forward” by sharing the care needs they see in the industry.

WORKING TOGETHER TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Experts agree that this industry isn’t expected to fully recover from the pandemic’s effects until 2023 or 2024. Big Table is still seeing elevated levels of care referrals. It’s a big mission that everyone can help with even in small ways. “We want people to develop their own story of care and join the movement,” Finch said. “Showing kindness and generosity – even a smile and a genuine thank you – goes a long way as workers continue to navigate the stress as well as staffing and supply chain challenges brought on by the pandemic.”

long table dinner

Another tangible way to care is through Big Table’s grassroots initiative called Unexpected 20s. Big Table offers small envelopes on their website that people can insert a $20 bill into and give to a server, housekeeper, or any industry worker as a gift – not a tip for good service. “It blows people away,” Finch said. “Even though the Unexpected 20 is a blessing for the one who receives it, the real power is for the one who has the envelope and is on the lookout, suddenly seeing all the people who were formerly invisible.”

Learn more ways you can get involved in caring for this industry by visiting Big Table’s website at big-table.com/get-involved.

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