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 This Nonprofit Provides Financial Relief When Restaurant Employees Face a Family Crisis

In fall of last year, Evan and his family’s life turned upside down. His wife had suffered a near fatal car accident, sending her to the ICU for six weeks, followed by a months-long journey of rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Naturally, the situation was distressing in itself. But Evan, who requested his last name and wife’s name remain private, also found his family facing a potential financial crisis. Medical bills quickly started rolling in, and at the same time, Evan needed to take time off from his job as a head brewer to care for his wife and two children.

It’s unfortunately a common reality in the U.S. when an unexpected medical crisis strikes. And it’s one that nonprofit organization CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees) was founded to help fix, at least in terms of easing the financial stress for those with children in the industry. 

Founded in 2004 by beverage executives, CORE provides grants to restaurant employees with children when the employee, their spouse, or child faces a medical crisis, injury, death, or natural disaster. For Evan, a social worker brought CORE to his attention, and soon after applying, his family received nearly $4,000 in grant money, helping to pay for their mortgage, monthly car payment, physical therapy copays, and other family expenses.

“Because of CORE, my family can focus on helping to make [my wife] get well again, and keep up with our household bills while doing so,” said Evan after receiving the grant.

How CORE works

To be eligible for funding, an applicant must be an employee of a food or beverage service operation and have a child that they're legally responsible for. Qualifying events include a significant medical diagnosis, injury, or accident to the applicant, their spouse, or child, death of an immediate family member, documented domestic violence, and loss of home due to fire, flood, hurricane, or other natural disaster. These are opposed to non-qualifying situations, like homelessness, divorce, decreased work shifts, and an accident without significant documentation. (See a full list of qualifying/non-qualifying events here.)

Applicants can apply online and typically must apply within six months of the qualifying event. CORE also offers a “refer a family” option, where others can refer a family in need, as long as one parent works in the food or beverage service operations.

As part of the application process, CORE requires documentation, such as proof of employment (paycheck stub), a rent or mortgage statement, and documentation of the medical diagnosis and treatment plan, if applicable. If approved, grant money can cover a range of needs, including  rent/mortgage, utilities, medical supplies and prescriptions, therapies, travel costs, funeral-related costs, groceries, clothing, and other essentials a family might need to navigate their specific circumstance.

“A grant could go from $500 to $4,000, depending on the specific situation, but the average in 2021 was $2,400,” says Sheila Bennett, CORE’s executive director. 

CORE pays for mortgage and car payments directly, if applicable. All other funding goes on a trackable Visa gift card, and families can use it for approved expenses.

“We were cautioned by insurance not necessarily to pay hospital bills because many times those bills are forgiven or reduced,” says Bennett. “The priority is keeping a roof over their head, food on the table, and making sure that stress is taken away.”

Ways Restaurants Can Help

Beyond helping individuals in the restaurant industry, Bennett’s primary goal since joining CORE in 2020 has been to expand awareness about the organization.

“Number one, we want to serve as a resource, but number two, we want to engage an industry to raise money to help employees in our industry,” says Bennett. “We were founded by the industry, for the industry, and we’re also funded by the industry.”

CORE is sponsored by an array of corporate donors and partners, and given the organization’s founding, many of those donors are beverage companies. But Bennett is working to get restaurants across the country involved through annual fundraising campaigns. For example, this summer, starting the last week of July, CORE is kicking off a month-long “round up promotion”, encouraging restaurants to raise money by asking guests to round up their check.

CORE also works with restaurants to launch individual campaigns, like at national gastropub chain Bar Louie, currently donating $1 to CORE from every Wild Berry Margarita sold. But there are ways to get involved outside of financial contributions, too, says Bennett. One of the primary ways is to share the CORE brand advocate program with employees. Brand advocates are employees who volunteer to increase awareness about CORE among their colleagues, identify and refer qualified applicants, and guide colleagues with their CORE application process. Ambassadors receive a 45-minute virtual training and materials to print and distribute.

Bennett notes that generally the biggest holdup in awarding a grant is obtaining all of the required documentation from the family, which plays into how the ambassador program was born and its continuous value. 

“It was inspired by a team member with Zaxby’s because she knew she had some employees who might need CORE,” says Bennett. “So as employees were facing problems — for example, two women had premature births and their babies were in the NICU, another employee had brain surgery — she’d encourage them to apply for a grant and guide them through the process.”

Interested employees can sign up online. And any employee or operator can print out CORE’s informational posters, available in multiple languages and designed to be hung up in the back of house.

“When you get an unexpected medical crisis, or something happens like an accident that would keep you from work, and you’re hit with unexpected expenses, where do you turn? That’s particularly painful in our industry, and that’s where CORE comes in,” says Bennett.

Grace Dickinson is a reporter at Back of House. Send tips or inquiries to grace@backofhouse.io.

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