Photograph by Erika Botfeld
The Giving Kitchen is busy gearing up for its fifth-annual Team Hidi event on January 29, which features tastings and drinks from 50 local restaurants alongside music from Yacht Rock Revue and a live auction. The event is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the local nonprofit dedicated to helping restaurant workers in need.
“It’s a really physically demanding environment,” TGK executive director Stephanie Galer says of restaurant work. “If I broke my wrist, I could keep doing my job, but if you’re a server or a bartender, you physically cannot work for probably eight weeks. That means no hours, no paycheck, no tips.”
TGK’s grants vary, but the average is $1800, or just enough to cover two months of rent and utilities for most of the applicants. “That’s a tiny bit in the grand scheme of things, but it stops that spiral,” Galer says. “They could be in a permanent financial crisis if they don’t have that help now.”
In September, TGK launched an online grant application system to expedite the process. Applications have since doubled, and many of those who received grants will volunteer at January’s fundraiser.
Through a mixture of ticket and live-auction sales, last year’s Team Hidi event raised TGK around $400,000. The organization expects to raise even more at this year’s new location, American Spirit Works.
What are some of the “unexpected crises” that Atlanta’s restaurant workers face? Leah Melnick, who manages the grant applications, shares some success stories from the past year:
Illness “Abigail and her husband Jessie met working at Mellow Mushroom. Their first baby came prematurely, and he had so many health issues that he was on feeding tubes and couldn’t leave the hospital for almost ten months. Abigail and Jessie basically lived at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta during that time, taking turns working shifts at various Mellow Mushroom locations. We met the couple through another organization called CORE, which stands for Children of Restaurant Employees; we were able to help them, and now their baby is back home, happy and healthy.”
Accident “Shannon, a general manager at Ruth’s Chris, was in a serious motorcycle accident, suffering several injuries that kept her out of work for three months. We paid three months of her mortgage, plus some utilities.”
Injury “Rhonda, a bartender at Bantum Pub and Cabbagetown Pie, was attacked in the parking lot leaving work one night. Both of her legs were broken, and she was out of work for two months while she recovered. We paid for two months of her rent and utilities, and we matched what her restaurant raised on her behalf, getting her through that time.”
Death of a Family Member “Olson, a server at Ruth’s Chris, had to fly home to Venezuela unexpectedly. His mother passed away, and he was the only one in the family who could handle it. Traveling to Venezuela at the spur of the moment is not cheap! We not only reimbursed him for his travel expenses and for the funeral, but we also helped him with a month’s worth of living expenses after missing all that time from work.”
Natural Disaster “Santonio, a dishwasher at Marlow’s Tavern, suffered a fire at his home. His entire family was displaced just a week after his wife gave birth to their fifth child. We paid the deposit and first month’s rent to get Santonio and his family into their new home, and connected them with the Red Cross.”
Sometimes, an applicant’s needs fall outside of TGK’s five core categories. Melnick and Galer try to tackle issues like substance abuse, housing, and mental illness through their Safety Net program, which is a work in progress.
“We want to empower restaurant workers,” says Galer. “We want them to know that this is a completely legitimate carer choice and that there is a community to be a part of, a community that will take care of its members.”
Purchase tickets for this year’s Team Hidi ($150 for general admission, $500 for VIP) and find out more about the participating restaurants—at least five of which are on our 50 Best list—at teamhidi.com.