In the Spotlight #3: With Jesse Vigil

A Hotel Moment Series

Despite the year that this has been, we know we have a lot to be thankful for. 

Over the next two weeks, at Hotel Moment, we are turning the spotlight on people in the hospitality industry who have helped others around them shine In The Spotlight series.

-Jennifer Suski 

Meet Jesse Vigil, San Diego City Director and Big Table

Big Table is a Nonprofit organization that cares for individuals in crisis that work in the restaurant and hospitality industry. 

When Kevin Finch, an established food critic in Spokane, Washington, started 

building relationships with people in the industry, he started to notice how difficult life was for them. As consumers, we often don’t realize the effort, energy and sacrifice that goes into working in hospitality. The nights, weekends, holidays, difficult customers etc. People who work in this industry are so good at their jobs that we don’t recognize the hurt behind the smiles. 

Kevin initially wanted to donate towards a nonprofit that cared for this industry. After an extensive search on the IRS website, he realised that out of the 1.5 million nonprofits registered with the IRS, there were 30,000 that focused on dogs and cats, (which is wonderful) but there were none that focused on restaurants and hotels. He started Big Table soon after. 

Some excerpts from my conversation with Jesse Vigil, the San Diego City Director at Big Table. 

I’m curious about the name. Can you explain that?

Kevin dreamt of a LONG table that seated dishwashers, line cooks, housekeepers, bartenders, etc. etc. – people who worked in the food and hospitality industry. He wanted to gather customers to serve them instead of them serving us. 

We created a 50 foot long table and invited 48 individuals that worked in the industry. We got one of Spokane’s top chefs and created a 6-8 course meal, gathering volunteers who don’t work in the industry to serve them. At that dinner, the goal was to create a community around a shared meal. We got a glimpse into their day-to-day lives and saw first hand all that they do to make this industry wonderful. 

At the dinner, Kevin passed around 3×5 cards and asked the guests to write down the names and numbers of people who were going through a crisis. He wanted to reach out to them to find out how we could specifically care for those nominated.

Twelve years later, we launched in Seattle and San Diego. We have cared for thousands of individuals… and we get to do it all with No Strings Attached.

(Outside of Covid, we typically have three industry dinners a year in each city.)

Tell me more about the different ways Big Table helps. 

Our care generally falls into five critical impact areas that directly stabilize those in crisis who make up much of the restaurant and hospitality industry. These are people who fall between the cracks – not able to make enough to survive but making too much to qualify for the critical support services reserved for those already unemployed or homeless.

This initial care may include – utilities assistance, help with rent or a deposit for housing, connections to a counselor, car repair, diapers or food for a single mom, a bike for work transportation, medical or dental help, or assistance with resume development. We do not provide hotel vouchers or long-term financial assistance.

Once the crisis has passed we continue to walk alongside individuals – offering accountability and encouragement.

I understand that you have continued with a referral process that Kevin started 12 years ago. Can you explain the process for us?

We are all about relationships! When someone is in crisis, they are referred to us by a manager, co-worker, friend, patron, etc. We do not accept self-referrals.

We have an online form that the referrer fills out to give us basic information about the person they are referring. We contact the referrer to hear their story and gather more details. We then reach out to the Care Recipient. Pre Covid, we’d invite them out to a cup of coffee. Relationships tend to build over that coffee. We then navigate specific ways in which we can provide support – emotional or financial. We then get to meeting that need! We follow up every few weeks to check in and make sure that the people are doing well. Some relationships last months or even years! 

Have you seen a large uptick in the level of need this year compared to previous years?

We launched the San Diego office in March 2019. Last year, we helped 67 people. In 2020, we have cared for 689 people so far We project to finish the year with at least 700 people helped.

Has the government stepped up to help at all?

We have not had any assistance through the government… and that is okay. Because of our fundraising model, we get to provide a more extensive care model. We don’t have to follow the government’s guidelines of grant reporting and jump through the hoops of government funding. We can focus on care and not checking off a “Social service box.”

Who contributes to Big Table?

One of the most beautiful aspects of our organization is that we are completely funded through donations. We have Corporate Sponsors, Industry Partners but the majority of our funding comes from individual donors and monthly partnerships.

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Connect with Jesse and others through their website www.big-table.comIf you are interested in supporting our efforts financially or becoming a monthly partner, go to https://big-table.com/give/