Approximately 250,000 to 300,000 people work in hospitality across British Columbia—at restaurants, hotels, pubs, foodservice suppliers, wineries, and breweries, to name only a few. But most jobs in the industry are part-time with minimal benefits. That’s where the BC Hospitality Foundation (BCHF) comes in. The BCHF serves those who serve others on a daily basis. Each year, the foundation provides support to individuals coping with a financial crisis arising from a medical condition or injury.
BCHF’s founding story is an incredibly heartwarming and inspiring story about how the hospitality community pooled their energy and resources to help one of their own through his darkest hour.
In late 2004, Michael Willingham, a respected and well-known wine agent in Vancouver, was involved in a severe car accident, followed by a debilitating stroke several months later. The injuries he sustained put him in the ICU for a full nine months, setting a medical record at the time for the longest period anyone has ever spent in intensive care. When he was finally discharged, it wasn’t because he was well—it was because there was nothing else the doctors could do for him.
Still, there was hope. A trial operation was available to Michael, but it would be risky. It was also extremely expensive. News of this terrible dilemma reached the hospitality community, and a few volunteers from different sectors of the industry came together to hold a series of fundraisers, including a golf tournament, to help Michael raise the $50,000 he needed for the operation that would save his life. When the cheque for the full amount was presented to Michael, he accepted, but under one condition: that the founding committee members continue to raise money for people in the industry during their greatest times of need. And with that first donation in 2008, the BC Hospitality Foundation was born.
Since then, the BCHF has directly supported 115 people across British Columbia with more than $500,000. A scholarship program has given an additional $150,000 to 116 students in hospitality, culinary, and beverage programs across the province. BCHF helped Jayne Pnevmatikos, a server and bartender with terminal cancer cover funeral expenses, unpaid bills, and a month of rent; the foundation enabled Angela LaForge’s parents to visit her in Seattle, where she was undergoing treatment for a rare form of brain cancer; a cheque from BCHF also allowed Hiro Hauata to support his family of five children while recovering from an ankle injury.
“Over my life I have been: a dishwasher, chambermaid, waitress, barista, and a night club worker,” says Leeann Froese, who was on the founding volunteer committee that helped Michael and then eventually became the BCHF. “Having worked those different jobs while putting myself through school and living cheque to cheque, I really can relate to what a devastating difference it can make if you can't pay your rent because maybe you're off sick or you've hurt yourself. I had no savings and no one that could loan me money. I am grateful I had my health. That’s why I'm super proud to still be involved with the BCHF and be part of the team that's taking it to it's next level of awareness and fundraising.”
The Foundation is receiving more applications for assistance than ever before. This year, Carlos is cooking in support of BCHF at DinnerPartyYVR. “We love the spirit of DinnerPartyYVR, and are proud of the fact that this delicious Vancouver-based initiative has so far helped donate more than $30,000 to local charities,” says Alan Sacks, executive director at BCHF. “This celebration of community, through cooking, is exactly what the BC Hospitality Foundation is all about. We applaud the great work of the team at Social Bites, the hobby chefs, and all the sponsors and partners.”
“The BC Hospitality Foundation is proud to be a unique-in-North America and made-in-BC charity that has the industry’s back. A great way to help is simply to tell people you know, so they know to apply if they ever need it,” says Sujinder Juneja, communications manager at BCHF. “Even if you don’t work in the industry yourself, everyone knows someone in hospitality—they’re your server, your barista, your concierge, your liquor store employee, your bartender.”
DinnerPartyYVR presented by Cressey has raised over $30,000 for local charities. Tickets are available at DinnerPartyYVR.com.