Taco Bell may have declared victory in the Taco Tuesday tussle once Taco John’s agreed to drop its 40-plus-year trademark, but the real winner from that months-long battle was likely CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees).
Once Taco John’s agreed to drop its Taco Tuesday trademark, it announced it was pledging $100 per location, or $40,000, to CORE, a nonprofit organization that helps restaurant employees with children who are battling a health crisis, death or natural disaster. Taco John’s called on its competitors to do the same and several, including Taco Bell and Tijuana Flats, answered the call.
All this attention created quite a tailwind for the organization, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Though the organization has been around since 2004, demand for CORE grants increased by 32% this year, according to executive director Sheila Bennett. She attributes this uptick to both heightened awareness and need.
The organization has made several changes since Bennett came on board in 2020 to meet that need. The first thing she did was put new systems into place, for instance, including a new application process that is HIPAA secure and requires documentation, so applicants are properly vetted. In 2022, CORE added Spanish translation to the process. The organization has also added financial literacy resources and mental health resources to its website.
Some of these updates have come from simply understanding its applicant base better, and the translation piece is a good example, as 11-to-17% of applicants primarily speak Spanish. Of CORE’s applicants, 52-to-57% are persons of color, while three out of four grantees are women and 72% are single mothers. Rent and mortgage assistance is the No. 1 request from applicants. That said, CORE also recently launched a Visa gift card for other approved expenses, with trackable spend guardrails.
All of these pieces – from the application process to data collection – have been put into place to ensure the organization is as transparent as it can be. Bennett said the mix on administrative costs vs. programming costs is about 25/75 and her goal is to get that to 80/20 this year, for instance. Indeed, the organization has earned a Gold Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.
“We want to be responsible for every penny in, every penny out,” Bennett said.
Bennett understands the challenge that comes from an industry that is grappling with wage inflation and unionization while simultaneously meeting an increased demand in such assistance, but she makes it clear this demand isn’t unique to restaurants.
“An unexpected expense of $400 can be debilitating to any American, including in our industry and we’re certainly not the only industry with an organization like this,” she said. “Medical bills are the No. 1 reason for bankruptcy and that’s why having a program like CORE is so critical.”
The average grant is about $1,300 and last year CORE granted out about $800,000. This year, Bennett anticipates the need to raise about $2 million to meet the increased demand. CORE’s big fundraising push comes through its annual Serving Up Hope campaign, Oct. 1-Dec. 31. The campaign invites operators and suppliers of all sizes to encourage their customers and employees to donate to the cause through round-up promotions, product promotions, golf tournaments, name it. Brands that commit to a $15,000 or more donation during Serving Up Hope receive a logo recognition on CORE’s Wall of Hope and website.
“There is no minimum requirement, we need the help of everybody,” Bennett said. “The need is there, and the need is great, so how are we going to raise funds to meet the demand? I’ve spent my entire career in this industry and I’m optimistic the industry will come together to help our own.”
For more information about how to support Serving Up Hope, visit the organization’s website.
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]