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Here's how to help Charleston area food-and-beverage workers in need this holiday season

Food bank distribution site

Volunteers hand out gallons of milk at a drive-thru food distribution site hosted by the Lowcountry Food Bank at Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston on Friday, July 24, 2020. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

Q: My husband and I are still hesitant to eat out at restaurants, although we are trying to support them through take-out. Are there any local charitable organizations that are helping to support restaurant workers?

I’ve seen a few online but want to ensure that we are donating to an organization where the funds will go directly to the workers to help support them during this difficult time.

A: Of the categories of workers who were crushed by the pandemic, hospitality employees are among the easiest to help directly. If you leave a breathtakingly big cash tip on your tab, your server is sure to appreciate it.

But that’s not a perfect solution since it doesn’t do much for the line cook with a looming car payment or the restaurant manager who’s been out of a job since March.

I understand your hesitancy about crowdfunding. Most studies have found that outright deceit is relatively rare on sites such as GoFundMe, which claims fraud infects less than one-tenth of 1 percent of its campaigns. And the hallmarks of a scam are a remote funder and unfamiliar crisis, neither of which is likely to apply in the case of a locally owned restaurant.

Still, grassroots efforts aren’t subject to the same oversight as established nonprofits, which have to account for their spending. If the nice guy who owns the pizzeria down the block decides what will lift his furloughed employees’ spirits is matching Christmas sweaters, that’s his call to make.

My guess is you’re more concerned by reports that restaurant workers are facing record levels of food insecurity, as well as an uncertain financial forecast (and thank you for heeding that concern at a time when the need for all charitable giving is so great.) Fortunately, several organizations share your priorities.

Locally, Pay it Forward is poised to emerge as an important source of relief for hospitality workers. The program got its start as the charitable offshoot of the grocery delivery service that Butcher & Bee inaugurated during lockdown, but leaders foresee offering emergency assistance in non-COVID-19 situations.

For example, it could one day help a chef repair her hurricane-battered food truck or fund medical treatment for an oyster farmer.

Yet that day won’t come until the organization obtains its 501(c)(3) status. It’s already submitted the paperwork to the IRS, so look for an update on that front soon.

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In the meantime, Feed the Need has for many years marshaled the local restaurant community to fight hunger. Now that so many members of the industry are in a position to receive, Feed the Need is, in some cases, turning its help inward: The group this month partnered with other nonprofits to distribute 1,000 meals to hospitality workers.

Another organization founded by former Charleston Grill general manager Mickey Bakst is Ben’s Friends, which might not be precisely what you had in mind when you pictured making a donation to keep workers housed and fed. Ben’s Friends is a support group for hospitality workers struggling with substance abuse and addiction.

Considering what the industry has been through in 2020, it’s hard to think of a more important cause.

Beyond the Charleston area, there are two regional organizations that are deserving of diners’ support. In Houston, the Southern Smoke Foundation has distributed almost $5 million to food-and-beverage community members in crisis. Founder Chris Shepherd, a frequent Charleston visitor in pre-COVID-19 times, started the fund to “take care of our own.”

And in Atlanta, The Giving Kitchen was a national pioneer in giving individual grants to food service workers who don’t have the financial resources to deal with scary medical diagnoses or eviction notices. Since its founding almost a decade ago, the esteemed organization has provided direct support to more than 6,000 people.

As you well know, the devastation of 2020 will extend into 2021 and beyond. Readers who can’t make a gift now might want to consider bookmarking this list: The work outlined above will continue long past the holiday season.

Pay it Forward: payitforwardcharleston.org

Feed the Need: feedtheneedcharleston.org

Ben's Friends: bensfriendshope.com

Southern Smoke: southernsmoke.org

The Giving Kitchen: thegivingkitchen.org

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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