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National Restaurant Association - Increase your philanthropic impact

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Increase your philanthropic impact

Mark O’Connor and Cathy Burke weren’t looking for a pat on the back in 1988 when they launched a small fundraiser to help the homeless.

But 25 years later, they received validation for their Tour de Shore bike ride when they won a National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation Restaurant Neighbor Award.

The award, sponsored by American Express, recognizes restaurants’ community service by providing $5,000 to four winners to continue their philanthropic work. Each year, the award goes to a small restaurant, mid-size operation and large restaurant company, as well as a Cornerstone Humanitarian.

“It was very humbling and very gratifying to receive a check in front of 500 or so of our peers,” O’Connor says. “Even more than the money, the award provided a real emotional lift in preparing for this year’s ride.”

The award helped the Irish Pub Foundation double corporate sponsorship for the event, which has grown to 1,750 riders from 20. “It really legitimized our ride,” O’Connor says. “Our ride is local, and we don’t have a big budget or PR, so that really helped.”

The Tour de Shore, which starts at the Irish Pub in Philadelphia and ends at its sister restaurant in Atlantic City, N.J., raised $620,000 in July. The foundation is working with Atlantic City officials to possibly close a street next year, which would allow hundreds more riders to participate and raise more money.

Like the Irish Pub Foundation, 99 Restaurants also has been able to increase the impact of its philanthropic work, thanks to its 2007 Restaurant Neighbor Award.

“When we won, that was validated that we are recognized outside of 99 Restaurants,” said marketing director Jason Goodrow. “Our team members felt that the industry thinks this is a great thing, too. That’s why we apply every year. It’s a way to keep [our charitable work] in the forefront of everyone’s minds.”

Woburn, Mass.-based 99 Restaurants won the Restaurant Neighbor Award for its work with the Pine Street Inn, New England’s largest homeless shelter. Representatives of the shelter joined company leaders to accept the award. Today, 99 Restaurants continues to support Pine Street Inn through donations, meals and volunteer hours, raising $122,000 this year.

Since winning the award, the company has added other beneficiaries, primarily the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. After one of the company’s executives died of cancer in 2006, one of his colleagues began running road races in his honor to raise money for cancer research. Each year, more people joined the cause, and this year, 99 Restaurants raised $640,000 for the cancer center.

“It started as a grassroots effort, and over the last two years, it really took off,” Goodrow says.

Two-time Restaurant Neighbor Award winner Eat’n Park’s community service also began as an employee effort.

Its five-week Caring for Kids campaign began in 1979 to raise money for children’s hospitals in Eat’n Park communities. Each restaurant has a chairman who works with his or her co-workers to put together a schedule of creative fundraising events.

One example is Tips for Tots, where servers volunteer to work certain shifts and donate their tips from that shift. Another is the Western-themed Rodeo Round-Up, where employees encourage guests to round out their checks to the nearest dollar and donate the difference. The largest event is a car raffle. Employees at each of the company’s restaurants sell tickets to a car donated by a Neighborhood Food Store, a Pittsburgh-area car dealership. A patient at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh selects the winner.

Eat’n Park’s efforts led to Restaurant Neighbor Awards in 2011 and 2001. Both times, the money went to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the company’s longest-standing partner in its Caring for Kids campaign. The money helps ensure all children receive medical treatment, regardless of their families’ ability to pay, as well as to enhance their experience in the hospital.

“The campaign has really grown,” says Trina DeMarco, director of corporate giving. “Each year, it shatters its fundraising goals.”

Since 1979, the campaign has raised $8.5 million.

“The employees are really humbled to receive national recognition,” DeMarco says. “They are very modest about it, but Caring for Kids is doing something great.”

John Farrell could barely make it through his speech when he accepted the 2010 Restaurant Neighbor Award for a mid-sized business. “It was pretty emotional,” said Farrell, who founded Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza in 1995 with his wife Margaret and daughter Jacque.

“It confirms for all of our people that what we do on a daily basis has purpose and meaning to our employee families, neighborhoods and communities,” Farrell says. “These things give our young people the opportunity to know what it feels like to do something really good for someone that is above and beyond what a paycheck can bring.”

Farrelli’s award stems from its longstanding support of veterans and the military community. Its flagship restaurant in DuPont, Wash., is near the Joint Base Lewis McChord, and Farrelli’s sends free meals in care packages to soldiers deployed overseas. After the soldiers return home, Farrelli's sends them thank you letters with free meal certificates.

"It's the very least we can do for them when you think about what they have done for us," Jacque Farrell says.

Before Farrelli's received the Restaurant Neighbor Award, Margaret worked from Washingon to transform a break area on base in Iraq into a remote Farrelli’s with signs, uniforms and other restaurant paraphernalia. The company also supports Fisher House, a temporary housing facility for military families visiting their loved ones in the hospital.

“The service in a restaurant reflects the feeling the restaurant family has for each other,” John Farrell says. “We tell our employees, when you see an opportunity in your community, we want you to get involved.”

John Farrell says the Restaurant Neighbor Award has provided more of an internal glow for Farrelli’s than an external acknowledgement from our guests. 

“We are proud that our crews know that there is a purpose further than that day’s sales,” he says. “We do these things not expecting a return, but it is always appreciated when your good work is acknowledged.

“It was a wonderful situation of ‘getting caught doing good’… a confirmation of the impact each person can have.”

The deadline to apply for the Restaurant Neighbor Award and the Faces of Diversity award is Nov. 26. Apply or nominate someone today.

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