The Giving Kitchen team
Photo: Giving Kitchen
Photo: Giving Kitchen

Giving Kitchen to receive James Beard Foundation 2019 Humanitarian of the Year Award

The James Beard Foundation announced today that it has named Atlanta-based nonprofit the Giving Kitchen as the recipient of its 2019 Humanitarian of the Year award. 

The award is bestowed on an individual or organization whose work in the realm of food has improved the lives of others and benefited society at large. It is one of a handful of special achievement awards that will be presented during the Foundation’s annual restaurant and chef awards ceremony in May. 

The Giving Kitchen provides emergency relief services to commercial food service workers. Since its inception in 2013, it has assisted more than 2,500 food service employees in Georgia, including providing more than $2.5 million in financial support through its Crisis Grants program and more than 1,000 referrals to community resources through its Stability Network program. 

Members of the Atlanta catering community present a check to the Giving Kitchen at is annual fundraiser, Team Hidi, in February. The Giving Kitchen is a nonprofit that provides emergency relief funds to restaurant workers. It recently expanded its support to include employees of catering operations as well as food trucks and concessions stands. Photo credit: The Giving Kitchen
Photo: HANDOUT/The Giving Kitchen

Last month, the organization announced that it had expanded its eligibility criteria to support commercial food service workers, including catering, concessions and food truck workers. Prior to this year, the Giving Kitchen only provided assistance to restaurant workers. 

Approximately 300,000 people in Georgia work in the food service industry, which equates to roughly 3.5 percent of the state’s population. Nearly 8,000 of these food service workers are expected to face falling into poverty this year due to an unexpected crisis 

By becoming available to more parts of the food service industry, GK will be able to help provide stability to 15,000 more members of the food service community not only with financial grants but also by connecting them to over 300 Stability Network partners. 

Giving Kitchen co-founder and spokesperson Jen Hidinger-Kendrick announced the expanded services Feb. 24 at the organization’s annual fundraiser, Team Hidi, named in honor of her late husband, Ryan Hidinger, who passed away in 2014 after a battle with cancer. The Atlanta restaurant community raised nearly $300,000 to help Hidinger meet his medical and other needs. The outpouring of support to the Hidingers' crisis set the intent, beliefs and values for the organization. 

At this year’s Team Hidi, now in its seventh year, the Giving Kitchen raised more than $865,000, including a check for $33,000 from the Atlanta catering community. 

The record-high fundraiser and the announcement of expanded services are just the latest signs of the nonprofit’s growth. Milestones in 2017 included expansion of its grant programs outside the Atlanta-Athens corridor to serve a larger restaurant community in the state, including awarding emergency grants to more than 100 restaurant workers on the Georgia coast affected by Hurricane Irma. That year, it also formalized its referral network to address social-work-related requests. 

"This award is a tribute to our community and beyond, and it has everything to do with the hard work of our staff, donors and volunteers who have advocated for Giving Kitchen,” Hidinger-Kendrick said. “This community changed my husband's life and, quite honestly, it saved mine."

News of the James Beard humanitarian honor award comes just weeks after the Foundation announced semifinalists for its 2019 chef and restaurant awards. Among those in the running for the title of Best Chef: Southeast is Ryan Smith, executive chef at Staplehouse. Located at 541 Edgewood Ave., in the Old Fourth Ward, Staplehouse is the profitable arm for the Giving Kitchen. This is Smith’s third nomination in as many years.  

The Giving Kitchen and Staplehouse have been the recipient of numerous national accolades in the last few years. Bon Appetit magazine named Staplehouse America’s Best New Restaurant of 2016. That year, it also topped GQ’s Best New Restaurants list, was included in Eater’s annual list and earned three stars from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was also a 2016 James Beard Award finalist for Best New Restaurant

June 19, 2017, Atlanta: Jen Hidinger of Staplehouse and The Giving Kitchen and Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman hand out free hot dogs to the community as she is honored as a Braves Community Hero at the Ponce City Market along the beltline on Monday, June 19, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/
Photo: Compton

That same year saw Jen Hidinger on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine. And, in 2017, the Atlanta Braves and Fox Sports South presented Hidinger with a Community Hero Award.

As for the Giving Kitchen’s future, its executive director, Bryan Schroeder, sees the award as both a validation and an opportunity – a means to reach more food service professionals in need and a green light for the organization to expand. “As we prepare to serve every corner of this country, we’re really trying to knit together a social fabric for the food service community.” 

Schroeder is also hopeful that Giving Kitchen will inspire restaurateurs to lay the foundation for an industry that’s a safe, stable place. “While we look forward to providing resources that will be applicable on a national level, we tell chefs and restaurateurs that they don’t have to wait for Giving Kitchen to make these changes. The real responsibility starts now with healthy relationships between owners and employees.”

The Giving Kitchen invites all supporters - the community who made this award possible - to celebrate at Muss & Turner’s (1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna) today, March 14, from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

The Giving Kitchen will be honored at the James Beard Foundation Awards gala May 6 in Chicago. Restaurant, chef and restaurant design awards also will be handed out at the ceremony, along with Lifetime Achievement, Design Icon and America’s Classics special achievement awards. 

Past recipients of the Humanitarian of the Year award include José Andrés, multiple James Beard Award–winning chef, owner of ThinkFoodGroup, food and anti-hunger advocate, and founder of World Central Kitchen. The 2018 honoree is known for championing the role of chefs in the national debate on food policy. Together with World Central Kitchen, Andrés served over 3 million meals in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017. 

Other previous winners of the award include Denise CerretaEmeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter.

Established in 1990, the James Beard Awards recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and further the Foundation’s mission to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America's food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone. Each award category has an individual committee made up of industry professionals who volunteer their time to oversee the policies, procedures, and selection of judges for their respective Awards programs. Winners receive a certificate and a medallion engraved with the James Beard Foundation Awards insignia.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. Atlanta. News. Now.

With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

About the Author

Ligaya Figueras
Ligaya Figueras
Ligaya Figueras joined the AJC as its food and dining editor in 2015.