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ORIGIN.   We came into existence in January of 2009 after Northwest food writer and restaurant critic Kevin Finch saw the need to create an organization to care comprehensively for those working in the massive restaurant and hospitality industry.  Finch came face to face with the needs of those in the industry – needs often invisible to anyone who is not cooking, serving, or elbow-deep in dish water.

dish pit 2

NEED.   Not only is food service alone the nation’s largest industry, it posts the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse as well as stunningly high rates of divorce and broken relationships.  Long hours and constantly changing schedules create incredible stress which is compounded by the limited (or absent) financial safety net for most front-line employees and even a number of managers and owners.  The industry is a catch basin for the most vulnerable… single parents, teens, immigrants, minorities, ex-felons.

GAP.  Finch searched nationwide for an organization responding to the practical day to day needs of the industry’s employees.  There wasn’t a single non-profit in the country organized to care comprehensively for those falling through the cracks – not one organization in the over 1.5 million non-profits recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt.

TRUST.  Help is also hindered, ironically, by the relational nature of the industry… even great Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) often go unused because employees believe that confidential help for issues like addiction will be reported back to their supervisors.  Their perception is that there is no safe place to get the support and resources they desperately need and want.

RESPONSE.   Programs are easier, but Big Table instead focuses on relationships built one-on-one, through the dinners we host, and as part of the care we provide to people in need.   Since 2009, we have worked hard to build systems and infrastructure to support these relationships.  Big Table has succeeded because we are passionately relational in an industry that is often cynical about programs that look good on paper but have no personal connection.

what everyone sees
SIX, SEVEN, OR EIGHT COURSE DINNERS WITH AN ACTUAL BIG TABLE Where the whole evening is designed to be a gift.  We host these dinners quarterly in partnership with top chefs and donors.  Our guest list comes from the industry – anyone from a dishwasher or maid to a chef or owner.  All are welcome at no cost.  The table – which we move from dinner location to location – seats 48.  Community members (everyone from CEOs and stay-at-home moms) serve along with past guests who come back to help. Near the end of the night we share the vision of Big Table and invite guests to write down the name of someone they work with who is in crisis or needs help.

what a few see
FOLLOW-UP CARE.  This is the heart of Big Table.  We respond personally to the needs identified by dinner guests or received by referral on almost a daily basis.   The response to the needs shared can be as simple as providing diapers for a single dad barely paying his bills or as big as providing a car for a mom trying to work, go to school, and raise three kids on her own.  We have arranged time away to rest for families in crisis, worked with collection agencies to reduce medical bills, helped with physical therapy after accidents, furnished apartments, provided childcare, helped cover legal costs, paid tuition, replaced stolen computers, and linked people up with doctors and dentists able to donate care.  In each case we seek to respond personally and leverage what we can provide directly with donations and partnerships with those in the community who are also able to help.

what we see
VISION FOR TRANSFORMATION.  Thoughtful and personal care in a moment of crisis can be the gift a person needs to step back from the edge, but we have a bigger goal than just one-off care projects.  Our aim in each situation is for the care provided to be the beginning of an ongoing conversation and relationship where we can build a friendship and provide support and challenge that leads to a life defined not by crisis and day-to-day survival but health and abundance.  The goal is transformation.

And not just in the Inland Northwest.  From day one we have received requests to launch Big Table in other cities.  In time this is exactly what we’d love to do, but we are committed to expanding only with the support necessary to truly impact and transform lives rather than just create marketing buzz.

We can pull off an amazing dinner anywhere, but Big Table’s true impact comes in the coordinated care and mentoring that grows out of the relationships started around the table.