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National Restaurant Association - For restaurants, charity begins at home

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For restaurants, charity begins at home

For restaurants, serving the communities they're located in often is as important as providing customers with great meals.

Last year, the restaurant industry donated nearly $3 billion to charitable efforts, according to National Restaurant Association research. A majority of U.S. restaurateurs make charitable donations annually, most of which benefit local organizations and charities.

"Restaurants understand they are an integral part of their communities and want to help support their neighbors," said Alyssa Prince, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s director of community relations. "From being the place where customers go for celebrations to the place people turn to for support onr issues affecting their neighborhoods, restaurants have their roots in the communities where they operate."

In its continuing effort to honor the good works of restaurateurs, the NRAEF is accepting nominations for the 17th annual Restaurant Neighbor Awards. Founded in partnership with American Express, the program celebrates the outstanding charitable contributions restaurant operators make. Applications and nominations for the 2015 awards will be accepted through Nov. 17. Winners are selected in the following categories: small business, mid-size restaurant company, large/national chain, and Cornerstone Humanitarian. Each winner receives $5,000 to support a favorite charity or community project. Awards are received at a gala dinner during the NRA’s Public Affairs Conference in April.

Following are some examples of the good works restaurants are doing:

Bahjat Shariff, operating partner of Howley Bread Group, a Panera Bread franchise based in Providence, R.I., says his company is committed to the Living Consciously Volunteer Event, a platform that empowers one associate per restaurant to act as a captain and oversee involvement with local in-house food drives. “This experience not only allows us to volunteer our time together, but also learn more about our underfed nation and what we can do in our own local communities to make a difference.” In addition to being a member of the Association’s sustainability and social responsibility committee, Shariff, who is a 2012 NRA Faces of Diversity award winner, received recognition this year as an NRA Restaurant Neighbor Award state finalist for participation in the “Day-End” program, which donates food to food pantries, churches and shelters in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The company has donated more than $7 million in food and funds over the last 12 years.

Lesley and David Cohn, owner-operators of Cohn Restaurant Group in San Diego, won a Restaurant Neighbor Award this year for their philanthropic contributions to their community, including support for the Garfield High School Foundation, an alternative continuation school for students considered high risk for dropping out of school. The Cohns co-founded the foundation in 1996 and have since helped raise more than $300,000 for its culinary arts program. The program has graduated more than 2,000 students, some of whom have landed jobs at the 19 restaurants in the Cohn Restaurant Group.

Sue LaTour, president of Passport Pizza in Clinton Township, Mich., uses her business to deliver food to people in need. With the help of various partners, including Costco, Gordon Foodservice and local retailers, Passport Pizza distributes more than 500 pallets of food annually to Michigan neighbors requiring aid. Food recipients include families, food pantries, veterans at the local VA hospital, and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. “I feel like I am directing traffic. I just say yes, and everybody does their part,” she says.

Read more about the awards program and learn about the winners and finalists from 2014.

Top right: Panera Bread franchisee Bahjat Shariff

Above right: The Cohn's of San Diego's Cohn Restaurant Group

Above left: Passport Pizza's Sue La Tour

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