It Just Might Work: A restaurant-workers emergency fund

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eric headshotby Eric Ginsburg

I don’t remember exactly why Carroll Leggett, a real man about town in Winston-Salem, brought it up as we stood in front of Willow’s Bistro recently. All I remember is thinking that his idea is a brilliant one.
Restaurants are asked to donate food and volunteer participation in so many different charitable and community-driven initiatives, Leggett said, that maybe there should be one where the rest of us give back to them.
Think about it. How frequently do we call on restaurants to aid the cause of the greater good, acting as complimentary caterers for our events? We’ve done it here at Triad City Beat, and several restaurants and caterers obliged, providing food and gift cards to our Kickstarter parties. We owe our success, in part, to them. And I’ve seen the pattern repeated at countless fundraisers, art openings, consciousness-raising events and more.
There are multiple ways to return the favor, the most obvious being to patronize and promote these local chefs and eateries. But there’s a whole class of people that we might be overlooking if our efforts ended there: the employees.
Restaurant workers don’t enjoy much stability, Leggett pointed out, and often don’t have much of a safety net to fall back on. What if, on a recurring basis, we came together for a fundraising party aimed at supporting them when they need it most?
There are plenty of details to figure out, like what sort of emergency would be eligible and how funds would be disbursed, but I love Leggett’s premise. Maybe someone would need to be employed at the same place for at least six months to qualify, he suggested, adding that he could imagine money going towards anything from helping during sickness to covering someone’s airfare to attend a parent’s funeral.
The annual party, Leggett said, could be more than just a fundraiser, and might include things like industry awards. And if an existing nonprofit — maybe one returning the favor — would administer the funds, it would save some unnecessary hassle.
I could pontificate on a more specific structure for the Restaurant-Workers Emergency Fund, or spend hours researching if something similar exists in other cities. But for Leggett’s idea to work, it will require buy-in from the local industry, which is in a much better position to articulate specific needs and solutions than either of us.