Good Neighbors

Chef Sets Up Relief Centers For Laid Off Restaurant Workers

With thousands of food workers now out of work, he's making sure their immediate needs are taken care of.

I've worked in restaurants for over 15 years, so I know how co-workers often become family. You're there for each other during good times and bad, through weddings, divorces, births and funerals. Through all the busy nights and slow days, you weather the storm together.

That's why what's happening now in the food service industry is so heartbreaking.

Thousands of restaurants have been ordered to close across the country to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. While some are remaining open to allow for take-out and delivery orders, millions of workers are predicted to lose their jobs as a result of the forced and voluntary closures.

Thankfully, folks are stepping up to make sure their staffs are taken care of, and are setting an example for others in the industry to do the same.

That includes Chef Edward Lee, who has organized a makeshift relief center for laid off restaurant workers in his community.

Chef Lee's DC area restaurant Succotash opened up a relief center earlier this week. SUCCOTASH/Facebook

Lee, who runs the non-profit The LEE Initiative, recruited a crew of volunteers and set up operations in the catering kitchen of his restaurant in Louisville, KY, Magnolia 61.

"People are going hungry and no one has paychecks and no one knows what the future is," Lee told CNN. "We saw an immediate need to open up our kitchen to help the millions of restaurant workers that are out of work, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck."

Lee and the volunteers set up tables with cleaning supplies, diapers, toiletries and meals for out-of-work restaurant workers to come and take what they need.

Relief centers allow unemployed restaurant workers to gather the supplies they need, free of cost. @chefedwardlee

After word of Lee's initiative got out, other chefs and industry reps wanted to help out.

Thanks to personal donations and support from food and beverage producers like whiskey brand Maker's Mark, relief centers have now been established in Lee's other restaurants in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.

"In so many cities around the world, (service workers) are so important to the cultural fabric of our community, but many of them don't have a safety net," Rob Samuels, managing director of Maker's Mark Distillery, said. "We're deeply committed to do everything we can to step up and help these people in the restaurant industry."

Lee says he's hoping to continue getting enough donations to keep the relief going for as long as possible, but for now they have enough donations to keep the centers open in five cities for the next two weeks.

Lee hopes to keep the donation centers open for at least two weeks. The LEE Initiative/Facebook

How can you start something good?

Follow The LEE Initiative on Facebook to learn more about the program and keep up-to-date on future developments. You can make a donation to The Lee Initiative by clicking here.

You can also help out of work restaurant workers by contributing to any of the following relief funds:

USBG National Charity Fund – The United States Bartending Guild is collecting donations to help bartenders affected by the virus.

Unite Hear Education and Support Fund – Unite Here is collecting funds to help its 300,000+ members with things like rent, groceries, health insurance and lost wages

One Fair Wage – OFW launched a fundraiser to provide immediate cash assistance to restaurant employees, delivery workers and other tipped employees in the food industry.

Let's #StartSomethingGood together.

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