Mara Lee recently joined the TBS team as a Marketing Manager, Core Brands. Though new to TBS, she is a long-time industry professional and has seen the celebrations, along with the tribulations, many employees and their families face in the Food and Beverage industry. In 2004, Mara, with a few other industry friends, wanted to do more than lament over their peer’s sufferings and started the non-profit CORE, an organization that grants support to children of food and beverage service providers who are navigating life-altering circumstances. We recently spoke to Mara about her passion to give us an inside look how CORE helps others.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for CORE?
ML: In 2004, five of us were sitting at dinner, sharing horror stories about our friends and colleagues in the bar/service industry who have suffered due to a life-altering circumstance. These are individuals who do not make money unless they are working and are typically not covered by insurance.
Imagine your child is really sick, even in need of urgent care, and you have to take weeks off from work, which means no money coming in and no insurance. The stress, both financially and emotionally, this can have on a person, is something no one should ever have to go through alone. This led the five of us industry folks to brainstorm until 4am (I basically wrote our business plan on bar napkins at The Lodge) to define what we wanted to do to give back to our own industry.
Fast forward to today, CORE is registered in all 50 states & Puerto Rico. We have raised over $3M, granting support to over 300 families in more than 30 states.
Q: How has CORE grown since 2004?
ML: We are comprised of 13 Board Members, 15 Advisory Council Members and 66 CORE Ambassadors.
Q: What are some ways CORE has helped service industry families this year?
ML: So far in 2017, we have been able to support 207 children (100 families) in 22 states by raising and receiving $695,000. We have been able to raise over $118,000 and support over 100 families affected by the 2017 natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, and fires).
Q: How is CORE different than other non-profits?
ML: I think the thing that sets us apart from other non-profits, is how we are flexible in the ways we give back.
Early on, we aligned ourselves with Make-A-Wish Foundation, to learn and partner with a national organization. While we were grateful for what we learned, our biggest insight was that we did not want to be a one-size-fits-all charity. So, we took a risk and began granting custom support to every qualified family in need.
However, with an ever-changing landscape, we have had to learn to adapt, react and help in many different ways. From large scale campaigns assisting with relief efforts like Hurricane Irma or responding to individuals on a one-off basis – we are constantly evolving.
Q: Are there any singular memories or stories that stand out that remind you why the work you do with CORE is so important?
ML: To be honest, every time I speak to or meet a CORE family, I am always brought back to that night in 2004 when we decided to go all in and start this organization. It is surreal to think about where we are now.
More recently, I took it upon myself to do more for our organization by working more closely with the bar community. Myself, Josh Fossitt, Beverage Manager, Bad Hunter (Heisler Hospitality) and Greg Buttera, Key Account Manager, Campari USA put our heads together at the end of 2016 to build an education platform in Chicago: Hospitality 201.
On the last Tuesday of every month, we invite industry professionals to join us for an informational session on various topics at a local bar or restaurant. At 2:01 pm we feed everyone a staff meal and during the meal, I share information on CORE. Then, a featured sponsor/speaker educates the bartenders, brand ambassadors, chefs and owners in attendance. Through these events we have been able to engage so many amazing people, raise close to $5,000 in cash, plus more in sponsorship donations and generated a lot of positive press for the organization.
The interaction with the bar community led me to connect with the Bar Institute. Through referrals from bartenders across the country, CORE became their charity of choice for the 2017 Econo Tour. This tour provided me and others within CORE the opportunity to educate bartenders in 25 cities about our organization and raise money. When it was all said and done, the Bar Institute Econo Tour raised over $23,000 for CORE, and they invited me to speak at other Bar Institute conferences throughout the country. This is where I met Chris & Julia Tunstall, the founders of A Bar Above, who recently published this article on the foundation.
It almost seems this is a ripple effect of positive momentum, and I am eternally grateful to be a part of it all!
Q: How can others get involved?
ML: There are a few fun and easy ways any individual or organization can donate to a CORE child/family in need.
While National Teddy Bear Day falls on September 9th every year, we believe CORE kids should always have a Corey Bear to hug whenever they need. These bears provide feelings of love, safety, and family to the children receiving CORE’s support.
For each CORE family in our program, we send (1) Corey Bear to each child in the family. As you can imagine, with 300+ families (totaling over 550 children), the costs for these fantastic bears do add up.
How you can help: A donation of $25 covers the cost of a Corey Bear and an outfit for Corey, specific to the receiving child’s interests (e.g. Batman costume for Corey). Donations can be made to CORE via our website: www.coregives.org or contact me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) to ask how to donate via CC or check.
CORE Hope for the Holidays Program
I am excited to participate in this program this year. I adopted a CORE family to help provide support needed and purchase the Christmas gifts on the child/family wish list ($250-$350 investment). I am thankful to have such a loving family that wanted to be a part of the giving. My mum, dad, brother, sister-in-law and of course, my 2 ½ year old niece, all contributed money to paying for the gifts, which are on the way to the Foots family in GA.
If you’d like more information on CORE, contact Mara (Mlee@tbsbrands.com). Or if you’d like to inquire about TBS supporting your local organization, contact Holly Berry (Hberry@tbsbrands.com)