Giving Kitchen ramps up aid as coronavirus pandemic rocks food service industry

Giving Kitchen executive director Bryan Schroeder. (Photo courtesy ATL Foodcast and Ben Getz)

The disruption and uncertainty of COVID-19 has rocked the food service industry to its core, as nonprofits like the Giving Kitchen (GK) work to address its workers with the greatest needs.

“There’s no easy way to put it – this has been devastating and really scary for a lot of people,” GK executive director Bryan Schroeder said. “We are hoping that as a community we can take the next few weeks/months to do the right thing from a health-and-wellness perspective and then bring this important part of the community and economy back.”

Early on, Schroeder and his team made the difficult decision to “stay in our lane” by providing financial assistance to food service workers facing unemployment AND an unexpected crisis  – illness (including COVID-19), injury, death of an immediate family member or housing disaster. For those facing unemployment, GK set up a COVID-19 resource page for where to get food, how file for UI, how to protect themselves from COVID-19 and more.

Staying true to their mission was the right decision, but it was painful.

“All of us have been touched by this. My mom and dad own a restaurant in Rome, GA. Its’ been open every day of my life until last week. That’s a lot of stress for my parents and their employees,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder believes that “GK is one thread in a patchwork quilt to help provide stability to food service workers”. The magnitude of the problem requires the public and private sector to focus on their strength, rather than wasting time being something they aren’t.

“I had a chef who was pretty frustrated with GK until he saw the list of people we’ve helped – with broken bones, a cancer diagnosis, who lost family members. He called and said ‘I am so glad my employees are not on that list – the people you are helping, really are worse off.’ That was gratifying,” Schroeder said.

Photo by Erika Botfeld

In 15 days, GK helped about 300 people (including food service workers and their family members who live with them) with ~$88,000 in financial assistance. GK’s resource page has had 45,000 unique page views.  Schroeder expects the need for both to grow exponentially.

“We planned on providing $1 million in assistance in 2020. We are now adjusting closer to $2 million based on what we’re seeing,” Schroeder said. “We are fighting for our future now and the community’s responded. It’s been incredible,”

Previously, GK’s biggest supporters came from the food service industry. But in the past few weeks, 2000+ people have made their first donations to GK alongside Atlanta corporations and foundations.

“Every reader has been deputized to be part of GK. We can’t do this alone. Please continue to order out, tip big – if you know a restaurant worker – Venmo them $50 for rent or food and consider donating to GK,” Schroeder said.