As another challenging year comes to a close, we’re pausing for a moment of gratitude to celebrate the work and organizations that made these difficult times feel a little bit brighter.
In this month’s installment of the Resy Roundtable, we asked operators, “What Organizations Inspired You in 2021?”. From supporting restaurant peers to fighting hunger locally and nationally, see the charities and social enterprises that industry leaders admired and appreciated this past year.
Nick Wong, executive chef of Georgia James Tavern (Houston)
Supporting the Local F&B Community: Food Is Love (Houston)
Food is Love is a grassroots industry organization created by Diane and Willet Feng. They lost their restaurant burger-chan due to COVID, but used their time in this period to help support other industry folks. They fundraise through merchandise, events, and donations, and then use the funds to buy meals from local businesses. Those meals are then transported to another restaurant to give them a free staff meal and provide moral support.
Fighting AAPI Racism and Bias: Chow Down in Chinatown (Houston)
Another grassroots organization, this time led by community members. This organization began just before lockdown, when a lot of Asian businesses in Chinatown were seeing huge drops in patronage due to anti-Asian sentiment regarding the spread of Covid. They raise funds through events and then pay for dishes from a restaurant that can then offer those items for free as a way to drive traffic. The group as a whole provides a lot of smaller mom-and-pop establishments free marketing and advertising through its members either recommending restaurants or acting as a resource for others to find specific cuisines or dishes they are looking for.
Ending Childhood Hunger: No Kid Hungry (National)
During the pandemic, they created drop off zones for kids who normally get school breakfast and lunch who otherwise would have gone without meals since schools were closed. They are now focused on getting the childcare tax credit extended so families can continue to feed their kids. Their work is essential for us to help people get out of the poverty cycle.
Rescuing Surplus Food: Lovin’ Spoonfuls (Boston)
Lovin’ Spoonfuls gets food that would otherwise be discarded from supermarkets, restaurants, farms, and more and delivers to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. During the last 2 years the need for their work has skyrocketed as more and more people went without work and food and had to access help that they may have never reached out to before.
Empowering Future Entrepreneurs: Build (Boston, California, DC, New York)
They help kids in lower income areas develop skills and experiences to achieve economic freedom and knowledge as they become adults.
Providing Financial Resources for an Industry in Crisis: Southern Smoke Foundation (National)
It seems strange to say an organization I founded inspires me, but it’s true. The staff has taken something that began as an annual one-day fundraiser and turned it into a year-round relief fund for folks in the food and beverage industry. When Southern Smoke started in 2015, I never could have predicted what this team has been able to accomplish. From granting more than half a million dollars to Houstonians in the industry after Hurricane Harvey to granting more than $6 million between March 2020 and March 2021 nationwide, this organization has become THE safety net for all food and beverage professionals in the country. I don’t care if you grow the food, distill the whiskey, serve the wine, wash the dishes—you are entitled to funds if you’re in a crisis.
One thing I’m incredibly proud of is our focus on mental health. We provide free mental healthcare to every food and beverage worker and their children in the state of Texas, and we’re expanding that program very soon into California. The goal is for this to be a nationwide program by 2027. Our tagline is “Taking care of our own,” and we will do anything we can to ensure every member of our industry is supported and taken care of.
Feeding Those in Need: Lucille’s 1913 (Houston)
One misconception about Southern Smoke is that we are on the front lines feeding people in need during a crisis. We provide a different service: financial resources—grants—to industry folks in need. This is why organizations like Lucille’s 1913 are so important. These are the folks on the front lines cooking for people in need. Chef Chris Williams of Lucille’s began working with World Central Kitchen during the pandemic, and when that partnership ended, Chris continued feeding people in need with his own money. He started a foundation and continues to provide meals to underserved communities in Houston. Chris and Lucille’s 1913 have done so much good for so many people in our city. It’s inspiring to me.