Covering and protecting our own

Did you know that many independent restaurant workers don’t have employer-subsidized health insurance? They are out there, going insurance-style commando with their fingers crossed. If they get injured at work, worker’s compensation should cover their medical expenses. But what if something else happens? What if they get mugged, or involved in a car accident while off the clock? What if their utilities get turned off because they couldn’t work for a couple of weeks due to an injury or illness, and they have children who will be affected?

In the spring of 2011, the Louisville restaurant community had such a situation to address: a much-beloved chef in our metro area was attacked, after work hours, and suffered a closed-head injury. His speech was slurred. His online postings were garbled. I advised him to go to the doctor, pronto. He replied that he didn’t have any money or any insurance.

I posted online about it, and people quickly offered to help. Within 24 hours, we were able to bring him enough funds to go to the doctor, get some x-rays and possibly an MRI, and pay for a prescription. We had no idea if it was enough money, but he was at least able to get the immediate medical treatment he needed.

Then the wheels started turning. Folks started asking each other if there wasn’t some way we could create a source of ready funds to help restaurant workers who often live without a safety net of savings. We struck up an ad hoc board and started having monthly meetings. Board members brought their own areas of expertise into play. Networks were formed. Advice and assistance were sought from professionals and similar organizations.

Modeled partly upon MERF, the Musician’s Emergency Relief Fund, APRON Inc. is a nonprofit, charitable 501(c)(3) organization, which was formed last year in response to the crisis suffered by our friend, the chef. (Full disclosure: I am a member of APRON’s board). Its mission statement:

“The mission of APRON Inc. is to provide temporary, limited financial relief to professional food and beverage industry workers in the Louisville, Ky., metro area who work at locally owned establishments and who are experiencing financial distress due to illness, injury or other issues. Food service professionals who have suffered an accident, family emergency, criminal act committed against such person or other catastrophic event are eligible for assistance.”

APRON’s plan is to raise community awareness and funds for relief through a series of online and offline fundraisers. Many people have already been very generous — some of them the very people who are living paycheck to paycheck, one unplanned incident away from not being able to pay their rent.

Cooks, servers, restaurateurs and others have stepped forward to donate. Chef Dean Corbett of Corbett’s and Equus/Jack’s was one of our first supporters, giving APRON the seed money needed to get established by pledging $100 every month from each of his restaurants. Independent restaurant employees all over the city are doing tip pools; a friend handed me a check for $200 at dinner last night. All such donations to APRON are tax-deductible.

Every restaurant worker has a story to tell about themselves or a co-worker who has been in a situation where they could have used help. Whenever I speak to someone about APRON for the first time, they get excited.

We’re excited, too. APRON’s first offline fundraiser, “Speakeasy Sunday” with a Prohibition-era theme, is Sunday at Theater Square Marketplace. Local chefs and mixologists will host tasting stations. The Louisville Dessert Truck will be parked nearby, and auction items will be on display, too. Admission is $25, and tickets may be purchased online at, where you can also find out more about APRON.

Our goal for this fundraiser is to introduce the local restaurant and foodie community to APRON, and to build a fund sufficient for us to begin to accept applications. Help us get there, and enjoy some food, fun and cocktails while you do.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, and Café Lou Lou. She now works for her alma mater, Sullivan University, as sous chef of Juleps Catering.