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Executive Chat - April 2020

Executive Chat

Interview with Sheila G. Bennett, Executive Director of CORE – Children of Restaurant Employees

by Rebecca Patt, Senior Vice President of Development, Wray Executive Search

Sheila Bennett is Executive Director of CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees), a non-profit that offers monetary grants and support for restaurant employees with children affected by a medical crisis or natural disaster. The charity is quickly pivoting to meet the burgeoning needs of restaurant employees diagnosed with COVID-19.

Sheila started her role with CORE in January 2020. Over the last 12 years, she has also served she as Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships for Fishbowl Inc. and National Director of Dine Out for No Kid Hungry with Share Our Strength.

What services does CORE offer, and how has it changed since the Covid-19 outbreak?

We are  focused on helping food and beverage employees with children who are coping with a medical crisis, diagnosis, illness, injury, death, or a natural disasters, including floods, fire, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Last month, we helped families in Tennessee following the strong tornadoes that paved a path of destruction for 53 miles. We have stayed the course on CORE’s mission since day one, and this work continues.

These grants may cover housing expenses including rent, mortgage, and utilities that we pay directly, or they may receive funds through a universal gift card to help provide basic needs for their family, such as food, childcare items including diapers or formula. Our website also provides a COVID-19 Informational Resource Center.

We are navigating unchartered waters as we address the global COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve expanded our language to say that if you are restaurant, hospitality, or bar employee diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you live in a household with a family member who's also diagnosed with COVID-19 and under doctor's orders to quarantine, you can apply for a grant with CORE. Documentation is always required, and we do validate that information.

We have a very small team. Recently we brought on additional help to assist with and speed up the application process, and we've reviewed more than 1500 grant applications in the past two-and-a-half weeks. We are personally reaching out to applicants to secure additional documentation to award grant support to families that meet qualifications.

How can restaurant employees apply for a grant from CORE? The application is online at  Click the APPLY button.

Who started CORE? It was started by a group of account executives in the beverage space. Together they realized that employees in food and beverage operations were hit hard when faced with a medical crisis or natural disaster. This would cause them to struggle financially.

The founders said, wouldn’t it be great if we came together and raised money for these front-and-back- of-house employees, and collectively and organically, they came up with CORE, which stands for Children of Restaurant Employees. They realized that sometimes it’s the kids who are negatively impacted the most. The founders wanted to make sure that children’s basic needs were met when these sorts of challenges occur. The founders are still involved with CORE and the heart of the organization.

What are the goals for CORE moving forward? My number one goal is increasing awareness of CORE to the restaurant community, so they can let their employees with children know that we're here for them if they are coping with financial strain from a medical diagnosis or natural disaster. We have $2 million dollar fundraising goal, and we’ve already hit $1.4 million to date. I always like setting a stretch goal and would like to raise $3 million to help more families in our industry.

How can people support CORE? There are many ways that people can support CORE. Number one, go online and make a donation at

Number two, they can share information about CORE to their network and let people know that we are here to offer grants to restaurant employees with children at times of a medical diagnosis, illness, injury or death or if they've been directly impacted by a flood, tornado, or fire.

Number three, contact CORE to get involved via sponsorships, partnerships or with our Ambassador program.

How much is the typical grant given by CORE? We have granted up to $5000 and each grant is tailored to meet the needs of each applicant. The average grant is $2,500. What we do routinely is that we will pay bills, directly, such as their rent, mortgage, or utilities. We may also award them a Visa gift card that allows them to buy some of the necessities in life that they need.

I understand that you're receiving widespread support for CORE. Tell us more about some of the biggest organizational supporters. We've had such beautiful support from numerous organizations such as Patron-Bacardi, Tito's Vodka, Barefoot Wines, Smithfield Culinary, Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, the Women in the Industry organization, American Beverage Marketers, Trinchero Family Estates, Funky Buddha Brewery, 3 Badge Mixology, Monin Gourmet Syrups, Four Corners Brewery, and MillerCoors from Florida. We are getting multiple calls every day, and I'm in dialogue with several other supporters now. It is heartwarming to see the industry come together to support those that have served us.

You just did a very successful fundraising event in coordination with Smithfield Culinary and the Great American Takeout Campaign. Tell us about that. The Great American Takeout campaign is a grassroots awareness initiative to encourage the public to order carry out or delivery during the COVID-19 crisis. This is intended to drive traffic to restaurants. Smithfield Culinary generously donated $5 for each post that used #thegreatamericantakeout on social media. Over the two weeks of the campaign, we received in $150,000 in donations. The response was overwhelming, and we are looking at putting together more fundraising events and sponsorships in coordination with the Great American Takeout campaign.

What is the most significant thing you have experienced in your work with CORE, as we navigate these unprecedented world events? That is tough to pick one thing. At the end of the day, it is all about the families that we help. As we speak to each qualified applicant, the stories are heart wrenching and heartwarming. In our conversations, we hear first-hand about the underlying issues employees face on their journey as they navigate through a medical diagnosis or the death of their child or spouse and stories about how they survive a natural disaster. Our heart goes out to all those facing hardship today and as a result of the COVID-19 virus.  We know that the virus is impacting our community in many ways. CORE continues to be here for food and beverage operations employees with children.

To learn more about CORE, applying for a grant, or donating to CORE, go to

Rebecca Patt specializes in recruiting top talent for the restaurant, food service, and food and beverage industry with Wray Executive Search. She can be reached at

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