Quality service is service with a smile. This foundational principle of the restaurant and hospitality industry has become increasingly difficult to uphold for the thousands of workers facing COVID-fueled job cuts and health worries.
As a former chef in the restaurant industry and the current Spokane director for Big Table, Chris Dietz knows the pressure workers face all too well: “If that smile goes away, so does the money. It’s a trickle down from there.”
The working population of the hospitality and restaurant industry has double the number of individuals below the poverty line and experiences far greater rates of alcohol and substance abuse when compared to any other working population. Most workers have no safety net and no supportive network to keep them afloat should a crisis strike.
It is Big Table’s mission to identify those in crisis and establish financial and relational support before they fall off the ledge. Using a referral model, Big Table develops connections with managers, owners and employees in the industry who submit referrals when they see a need developing.
Big Table meets the immediate needs of those referred, whether that be making a rent payment, finding reliable transportation or helping select a new pair of shoes. The relationships formed during this initial triage phase are the driving force behind the transformational power of Big Table’s work. As Dietz explained, Big Table’s vision is larger than halting an impending crisis, it is focused on transforming lives through mentorship and encouragement that continues long after a referral is submitted. “We are as relationally driven as possible,” added Dietz, “If we help with somebody’s rent or if we help get a car fixed, we’re also sitting down to have coffee with them and have bigger and deeper conversations about what’s really going on.”
The relational aspect of Big Table is what drives many donors to help expand its impact.
“Big Table trusts those who are working their way out of poverty. Too often, it seems like our society only offers services when someone has already lost their house, job or health care,” said one Big Table donor. “I want the recipients of Big Table’s services to know that there are people who respect their work and value their contribution to society and that they deserve to keep the things they’ve worked hard for.”
The onset of the pandemic has proven overwhelming for Big Table as it strives to continue building and cultivating supportive relationships with COVID-19 safety regulations in place and the volume of referrals rapidly increasing.
In 2019, Big Table in Spokane received 145 new referrals and supported 406 individuals. During the first 5 months of 2020 alone, they have already received 225 new referrals and supported 424 individuals.
The support of Innovia Foundation’s COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Funds has helped Big Table grapple with the novel economic and safety challenges facing the community.
“That money has kept people in houses. That money has kept people fed,” said Dietz, describing how relief funds have supported those Big Table serves. “Stress taken off in the area of housing and food security allows individuals a moment to provide better care for their children or process what work might look like next.”
Through virtual meetings, mailed notes and gift cards, Big Table is fighting to maintain supportive relationships and quell quarantine-induced isolation among those it helps.
Despite the challenges of this time, the community’s commitment to support Big Table through generosity continues to make a difference.
One recipient of support and encouragement from Big Table wrote, “I wanted to thank you for our conversation the other week. It is not too often I get to talk about all of this with someone who isn’t in my immediate family, since the quarantine. I received your note and the gift cards in the mail, which is a huge help.” Another shared, “Thank you so much for helping my family. We are all in this together.”