As it became clear that the COVID-19 crisis was going to carry on for more than a few weeks, the hospitality industry braced itself. Already operating on increasingly thin margins, many, if not most, restaurant operators were unsure how long their establishments could endure the strict lockdowns, imposed curfews, and limited capacities. In response, a number of non-profits, international organizations, and volunteer coalitions sprang up to do their part.

Here are some of our favorites.

Southern Smoke

Launched by Chris Shephard in 2015, Southern Smoke originally raised funds for multiple sclerosis research after Shephard’s friend and former sommelier was diagnosed. In 2017, Southern Smoke moved to raising funds for people in the food and beverage industry affected by Hurricane Harvey. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, their Emergency Relief fund for workers in the food and beverage industry has distributed $4,297,662 to 2,165 people nationwide.

Dining At a Distance -

Dining At a Distance is a simple concept executed well. Visit the website and click on your city to see a curated list of restaurants in your city with information about their current service and delivery options, website links, and any ongoing donation programs. Information about local farms and suppliers are available as well. Each city has volunteer curators that keep the information up-to-date with some cities still needing curators. Check them out to see how you might be able to help today.

Big Table -

Big Table is a restaurant worker relief and crisis care organization with a community-based twist. Using a network of managers, owners, and employees across the country, Big Table only responds and provides relief through referrals. After a fellow industry worker indicates a coworker is in need, Big Table seeks to first provide immediate assistance through funding and partnerships with resource providers in communities like doctors, dentists, therapists, mechanics, and lawyers. They then follow up with ongoing assistance, coaching, and mentoring to ensure individuals’ situations continue to improve. Big Table currently operates in Spokane, Seattle, and San Diego.

Heart of Dinner -

When COVID-19 began making headlines, Heart of Dinner cofounders Yin Chang and Moonlynn Tsai saw two problems affecting the Asian-American immigrant community in tandem; isolation and racism. Not only was the pandemic devastating restaurant owners nationwide but unfounded fears and xenophobia toward the Asian-American community caused further distress to Chinese restaurants (especially Chinatown locales) and Chinese senior citizens. Heart of Dinner was their answer. Donations fund meals cooked by Chinese restaurants which are then delivered to senior citizens along with a hand-written note in Chinese or Korean. Over 44,155 meals have now been served.

Independent Restaurant Coalition -

The Independent Restaurant Coalition or IRC is a coalition of hundreds of owners, chefs, and restauranteurs from across the country acting as a unified voice for independent restaurants. In recent months, their main focus has been providing support and input for the Restaurant Act to be passed through congress. You can visit their website now to automatically send emails to Congress, donate, read recent industry news and more.

The Lee Initiative -

You would think Chef Edward Lee has enough on his plate between his three Louisville restaurants, a Culinary Directorship for restaurants in DC and Maryland, writing his own cookbook, and hosting a documentary and television series. Yet, a look at the laundry list of programs his charitable foundation operates wouldn’t give you that impression. On top of their Woman Chefs program, the Lee Initiative has operated the Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice program, served meals to workers through the Restaurant Workers Relief program, committed to purchase over $1 Million of food for restaurants, from sustainable farmers the Restaurant Reboot Relief program, and provided financial support to Louisville restaurants through the Restaurant Regrow program. created the “Dining Bonds” initiative to provide relief to restaurants during the pandemic. Guests purchase what are essentially discounted gift cards with a caveat inspired by savings bonds—these Dining Bonds are only redeemable 30 to 60 days after their purchase. This helps restaurants get money from their supporters when they need it most with time to be on more stable ground before the purchases are redeemed. This way, restaurants can still bring in revenue while temporarily closed and have promised business when they reopen.

Do you have a favorite organization supporting restaurants? We’d be happy to share them with our community. Tell us more about the organization at