While moonlighting as a food critic in 2009, then-pastor Kevin Finch began to notice a trend among those working in hospitality in Spokane, Washington. As he got to know their stories, he became acutely aware of the level of need and risk that weighed heavily upon those in the hospitality industry, which happens to be the largest in the United States.
For people in our country’s most vulnerable demographics, restaurants and hotels provide employment. However, the result is an industry that experiences alarmingly high rates of mental health issues, housing instability and substance dependency, among various other negative impacts.
Finch realized that despite the presence of over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, none had been established to help hospitality workers. So, in 2009 he stepped away from his work as a pastor in the traditional sense and founded Big Table.
According to Jen Seger, City Director for the Nashville branch of Big Table, the endeavor “is an entire nonprofit that’s based around caring for an industry.”
Big Table started with a 48-person industry dinner hosted by Finch to which space, food and time were donated by volunteers so that those who typically do the serving could be served by others. Industry employees gathered to enjoy a six-course meal and each guest was asked to write down the name of a fellow hospitality worker facing crisis or in need. It was then that Big Table’s referral model began.
“We often get people who wouldn’t ask for help,” said Seger. Once a referral has been submitted, Big Table helps the individual in crisis ensure safety by meeting immediate needs, like short-term housing. From there, Big Table’s mission is to create change through relationships, helping industry employees achieve stability.
When Finch began Big Table in Spokane, it was only the beginning. Today Big Table is active in Spokane, San Diego and, most recently, Nashville with Colorado Springs coming soon. Big Table’s success is tied not only to Nashville’s robust hospitality industry but also to the generosity of the city. Nashville is known for its resilience and willingness to lend a hand when tragedy strikes, and Segar has seen this ring true through her work with Big Table.
“We go where we’re wanted,” Seger said. “What we want is to help change someone’s trajectory.”
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