Negroni Week News

Fundraising Spotlight: CORE

September 15, 2020

From the beginning, CORE has aimed to provide assistance for families—specifically the families of food and beverage workers, who too often find themselves without a lifeline in times of emergency or crisis. Now, when the entire industry is facing the crisis of COVID-19, CORE has stepped up to ensure that hundreds of families still have the means to get by. We spoke with Mara Lee, one of the organizations founding members, about the mission of CORE, the particular challenges of COVID-19, and the industry’s needs moving forward.

Imbibe: What is CORE’s founding mission, and why do you think it was a needed resource for the industry?
Mara Lee:
In May of 2004, the five founding members were at dinner in Chicago and dove back into a deep discussion about industry folks we knew—bartenders, waitresses, chefs, and especially those with families—who, if something happened to them or their child and they were forced to take off of work, they wouldn’t be making money. Most independents and restaurant/bar groups at the time didn’t offer insurance to service/hourly employees. And if something was life-altering, like a car accident or a crisis (say the child needed emergency surgery), who was going to cover it? We continued to piece ideas together, thinking about all of these individuals, serving as the front lines and faces to our alcohol brands day in and day out.  Same with back-of-house; no one had their or their child/family’s “backs.” And at that time in the early 2000s, there was a lot of money to be spent. Our goal was to build an organization that would speak to big brands, distributors and the community to help the food and beverage employees, with children, who work hard every day to serve and deliver millions of memories and experiences at bars and restaurants. As you can imagine, with the five of us all being full-time industry professionals and not experts at nonprofits, we had a lot to learn. But that is why, and how, CORE was created and why it remains essential as an organization to support the food and beverage employees who have children and families.

With the impact of COVID-19, what became the organization’s priorities?
I believe the pandemic has taught us a lot. How to adapt as well as pivot (seriously the word for 2020) to make sure we are not only serving the families of F&B in need, but we are also listening. As the world was faced with the biggest pandemic in our lifetime, we wanted to honor our mission by providing support to food and beverage service employees, with children, who have been medically diagnosed with COVID-19 or under medical directive to quarantine. We created the CORE COVID-19 Relief Program that raised and applied funds directly to those food and beverage families impacted by COVID-19. In 2020 alone, CORE has hit a significant milestone in our 16-year history. By September, we had provided over $1 million in grants this year to approximately 405-plus families (860-plus children).

What continues to be the most urgent needs for the industry moving forward?
Speaking both to the present with the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, and also the pre-pandemic, daily circumstances, the most urgent needs are the basic means of support: Housing payments/rent to keep a roof over the employees’ and children’s heads. Car notes, to ensure they have a means to get to work or their child to school.  Bills, clothing, gas cards, meals. All the basic necessities that one, myself included, can easily take for granted are what is needed most. As we continue to navigate our current situation faced with a pandemic that at times feels like there is not an end in sight to hurricanes and wildfires destroying homes, business and lives, providing these necessities are vital to basic survival. And as an organization, CORE is working hard to ensure we are able to step in and provide for our industry families in need.

What gives you hope for the future of the industry?
Relationships and Resiliency. Look at the numbers. The restaurant industry is the country’s second-largest private employer with more than 15 million workers. Now millions without work and without a means of income, support or a job to go back to, the future of the hospitality industry depends on the resiliency of these individuals, brands and ideas that have helped shaped our industry into such a special community in the US and globally. In this global community, it’s the genuine relationships that truly matter most.  We are seeing both individuals and corporations finding ways to leverage relationships, create opportunities and seek solutions to help support and rebuild our industry. I believe the food and beverage/hospitality industry will thrive again, but it will take some serious economic assistance to the restaurants and businesses, as well as the charities who service the industry and maintain direct support for those impacted. And for those who are able, taking action with lawmakers who are making decisions about our industry, is a necessity for our survival (e.g. / RESTAURANTS Act of 2020).

Click here to donate to CORE today.

Story by Penelope Bass