San Diego Business Journal

Big Table, a Pacific Beach-based non-profit, launched in the early part of 2019. Its mission is to care for individuals in the hospitality industry that are in crisis.

In this short amount of time, the organization has made a big impact on San Diegans in need.

Food Security, Housing Stability

Last year, it aided 67 restaurant and hotel employees, according to Jesse Vigil, San Diego city director. This year, in large part because of COVID-19, Big Table has helped 602 individuals, he said, with a focus on food security and housing stability.

“Going from 67 last year to over 600 this year was a huge surprise – we had no idea the industry we care for would be so heavily impacted by COVID,” said Vigil. “Right now, we are primarily focusing on awarding grocery gift cards as well as paying individuals’ rents. Hotels are still not entirely open and not many tourists are coming into San Diego. Many of those employees could be out of work soon, and now they can’t count on the additional $600 unemployment benefit. So, we project there will be a continued need in San Diego.”

Big Table works off a referral model, said Vigil, mostly from a manager or coworker of a restaurant or hotel worker facing financial hardship. Big Table then makes it a point to build a relationship with said person, he said, to understand his/her story and figure out the best way to help.

Typically, the aid cap per individual is around $1,500, he said, although it is a case-by-case basis; if any given situation calls for more financial assistance, Vigil said Big Table is willing to step up where it can.

Largest Donation to Date

This year, the non-profit was awarded a $250,000 grant from The San Diego Foundation – the organization’s largest donation to date – which helped it expand its reach just in time for COVID-19. The San Diego Foundation, headquartered in Liberty Station, focuses on creating positive impacts on communities in San Diego.

Namara Mercer, executive director of the San Diego County Lodging Association, was responsible for making the connection between Big Table and The San Diego Foundation. She said the city is fortunate that Big Table chose to open its third location in San Diego. (Big Table was founded in Spokane, Washington, in 2011 and opened a second location in Seattle in 2015.)

“No one could have predicted that coronavirus would devastate our restaurant and lodging industry creating tremendous hardship for thousands of San Diego hospitality employees,” she said. “Big Table has stepped in to meet the need with no-strings attached care that can often be the difference between homelessness and hunger.”