Catering Food Service Management - Atlanta

Giving Kitchen’s James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year Award Acceptance Speech


“Help restaurant workers in crisis.”

A directive from the lips from my late husband Ryan Hidinger that will always be at the heart of Giving Kitchen.

In the beginning, helping a food service worker in crisis meant one thing: financial aid. We witnessed Ryan fight an inspiring cancer battle with the financial support of our friends and family. And it was his words, “Use these funds to help others like me,” that started Giving Kitchen.

Our financial assistance grant program was born. We’ve provided over $2.5 million in financial aid to over 1,600 food service workers.

However, as we implemented and matured our grant program, a pattern emerged. Food service workers in crisis needed more than financial aid: access to counseling, housing, food security, medical care, disaster relief and financial literacy. If our goal was to help food service workers in crisis, we quickly realized Giving Kitchen needed to be more than financial aid. A connection to community resources was desperately needed, and Giving Kitchen’s Stability Network was born. This community resource referral program now includes hundreds of national, state and local resources – from mental health to support for homeless food service employees – and we’ve tracked successful referrals to over 1,000 chefs, servers, bartenders, hosts and dishwashers in crisis.


And all this started with the love of one chef. The competitors of the Atlanta food service community came together to take care of one of their own. What other industry do you see do that? It is an idea whose time has come, an example of hospitality in its purest form and of what is possible when we all work together.

As restaurateurs we are called upon to help so many great causes, which is important as good stewards, but it is time to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. That is the unbridled power behind Giving Kitchen.

Beyond being there during crisis we’ve been led to ask an even bigger question, “What does it mean to help a food service worker before crisis?” By any measure, self-care is an issue in our industry. It is an elephant in the room. From burning the candle at both ends, drug abuse, sexual harassment, mental health or suicide. We hear it. We see it. We feel it.

As leaders, many of us have the privilege and platform to speak to issues of self-care in a trusted way that can empower people to feel the courage to be vulnerable, stand up and ask for help before crisis strikes. Self-care is a complex issue to solve which takes a commitment to change and professional help but can start with something as simple as taking an extra minute to ask, “How are you? No, really, how are you?” And listen.


Giving Kitchen has every intention of becoming a national organization – one day. But our message tonight: do not wait for us. Now is the time to make your kitchen a Giving Kitchen on your own and with our help. We are thrilled to announce that our team has organized nationally-relevant, self-care resources starting with how to help a teammate considering suicide.

QPR Suicide Prevention Training is the CPR of suicide prevention. It’s an industry standard that prepares you to “question, persuade and refer” someone to get help. The 45-minute online training costs $30, and for our team at Giving Kitchen, it made us immediately better at our jobs. So when the phone rang – and it has rung – we were ready.

A simple decision, a small investment of time, has helped us save lives. And now it’s your turn.

Giving Kitchen is proud to announce that we are offering QPR suicide prevention training for free every restaurant in the United States. Everything you need to know is at and our Giving Kitchen app.

I challenge every person in this room to take this training and share this opportunity with your peers.

Thank you to the James Beard Foundation for this amazing recognition and for giving us this opportunity. On behalf of Giving Kitchen’s staff and board and the great city of Atlanta: THANK YOU.

This acceptance speech was given at the 2019 James Beard Awards Gala Awards, May 6, 2019 in Chicago at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.


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