Serving the Servers
St. Matthews-Based APRON Inc. Supports Struggling Restaurant Employees
APRON Inc., a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps local restaurant employees with financial issues due to issues such as illness or injury, is needed now more than ever in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gary Fox, president of APRON, says the organization was founded after a fundraiser was held for a chef that had fallen on hard times due to a serious accident. As a result, community leaders began considering a charity grant model for those working at independent restaurants and small businesses.
This idea was taken to late chef and restaurateur Dean Corbett, and he wrote a check. In eight years the group has awarded 230 grants totaling approximately $240,000. In the few months since coronavirus-related business restrictions began, that number has grown to include 382 grants.
“Louisville has been so giving – both corporations and individuals,” Fox says. “We keep emergency backup for floods and fires, but nothing like this. Because of gifts and grants, we’re so lucky to live in Louisville and be part of this community.”
Fox says the typical maximum grant has been $1,500, or about one month’s worth of bills, to help those who have suffered a fire or hospitalization, but now the typical grant is about $500.
“It’s something, a little weight off the shoulders for the month – so many people are out of work in the restaurant business in Kentucky,” says Fox, describing a lawyer whose client donated an anonymous gift of a $20,000 matching fund. That amount was raised in two days, and another $20,000 was given.
“People are giving $5,000, $10,000, $15,000, bigger gifts than we’ve ever gotten, and sweet, wonderful people send $5 individual donations,” he adds. “It’s very heartwarming. We still need ongoing donations, and there are still people out of work, whose unemployment could be running out. We’ll be giving for COVID for quite some time. The need never stops.”
Fox says the Taste of Independents event, which features some of Louisville’s top eateries and is co-organized by APRON leaders, was scheduled for July of this year, but was put on hold due to the pandemic.
Ellen Gill McCarty, a local chef and former owner of Science Hill Inn in Shelbyville, is battling cancer for the third time, and received some assistance from APRON.
“APRON helped me twice, which was wonderful,” she says. “They paid my mortgage and two or three hospital bills. It helped tremendously.”
McCarty’s family ran the Science Hill Inn for 40 years, but when she became ill in 2016, she could no longer handle the demanding duties at the restaurant. McCarty now handles catering for Crowler Catering and Gill on the Go, and says she’s able to handle her current tasks at her own pace.
“The restaurant business is so crazy,” she says. “With catering, more people are ordering delivery, and I can leave orders in a cooler on the porch. It’s fun too, and keeps me creative. I can say when it’s too much. It’s nice.”
McCarty gives back by volunteering with APRON fundraisers, and she received APRON’s Founders Award at the 2018 Taste of Independents event.
“I was quite honored to receive it,” she says of the award. “It’s wonderful how people come out to help now. I think now more people know about APRON because of the pandemic.”
Caroline Knop, founder and owner of Simply PR, serves as APRON’s publicist, and also volunteers her time to help local restaurants with their ongoing needs. She handles public relations for the group’s annual fundraisers including the Taste of Independents event.
“APRON is an amazing nonprofit with an amazing, thoughtful team that Louisville is so lucky to have,” Knop says. “I think we were one of the first to create a nonprofit to serve restaurants, to serve those who serve you.”
Dawn Bianconcini, an APRON board member who works for Heidelberg Distributing Company, agrees.
“We’ve been doing eight years of rehearsal for the past few months,” she says. “It’s slowed down in the last few weeks, but for about eight weeks we had hundreds of applications per day. It’s emotional, going from five to ten applications per month before, because we’re a last-ditch effort. It’s a proud community. Now we are talking to owners and managers and chefs, and they are wanting to take care of everyone. Thank goodness we have the means to help. Every dollar helps, and every volunteer helps.”
Fox praises the work of the group’s 12-member board, including five who are founding members, as well as corporate supporters like Maker’s Mark. He says community groups like The LEE Initiative, founded by Chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia and Whiskey Dry, have been providing meals, groceries and other necessities for restaurant employees.
For more information, including donation and volunteer information as well as updates on APRON’s fundraiser events, visit aproninc.org and call 502-403-5683. Visit the organization’s Facebook page for information on virtual cooking classes, a t-shirt fundraiser, and a silent auction to be held as part of the Unbridled Eve Derby Gala, all to benefit APRON.