Freelancing as a restaurant critic while he was a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor, Kevin Finch built relationships with those in the food service industry. He started hearing their stories of addiction, stress, and need—stories that caused him to ask, “Who’s caring for these people?” Concerned enough to conduct research, he discovered the answer: apparently no one. Out of 1.5 million non-profits in the U.S., not a single non-profit was directed at holistically caring for the largest industry in the nation. He also discovered that the food and hospitality sector has the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse of any industry. The idea for Big Table was birthed.
“Who’s caring for these people?” Concerned enough to conduct research, he discovered the answer: apparently no one.
Finch left a pastoral position at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Washington to found Big Table at the beginning of 2009, with the sole purpose of transforming lives through the building of relationships and no-strings-attached care. Why the emphasis on no-strings-attached care? “Many in the industry are guarded around Christians or they don’t like them,” Finch replied. “One reason is that Christians often seem to care with an agenda: ‘We’ll help you but you should be planted in the pew come Sunday.’ Big Table wants to provide care that causes people to say, ‘This doesn’t make sense. You aren’t asking anything in return.”
Knowing there is something sacramental in the breaking of bread and sharing of wine, a centerpiece of Big Table’s ministry is offering multi-course meals around a custom built 42’ “big table”. Here, line cooks, wait staff and restaurant managers are the special ‘guests’. Treated to elaborately prepared meals by volunteer chefs, those who spend their lives serving are served. At the end of the meal, the question is always asked, “Who do you know in the food and hospitality industry who is hurting?”
Committed to acting on 100% of the care referrals that come through these meals and other means, Big Table takes each need seriously.
Committed to acting on 100% of the care referrals that come through these meals and other means, Big Table takes each need seriously. They then leverage their care network of businesses, other non-profits, individuals and financial resources to creatively and concretely care for those in crisis, transition, or those falling through the cracks. Big Table’s care is diverse and personal. Care projects have included: covering monthly bills so a family could pay funeral expenses for their baby, new car tires for one family, a used car for another, major dental work, counseling, medical bills, rent, apartment furnishings and dishes, needed clothing and shoes, legal aid, and child care. One Big Table team even sent a dad and his son across the state to a Seahawks game in the wake of hard times. Projects often address deeper needs and cause recipients to ask, “Why would you do this for me? I can’t believe someone would care this much!” Such was the case for Rumaldo, a prep cook, when he was handed plane tickets to fly to El Salvador to see grandchildren he’d never met.
Finch remembers his original call: “I had been dreaming of what a ministry to this industry might look like. One night, I was awakened and heard, ‘Kevin, I need a pastor to the restaurant industry. Are you interested?’ My reaction was, ‘I’d love to, but they don’t want a pastor!’ because everyone clammed up or cleared out if they found out I was a one. Then, in front of me I saw a Bible with some portions of Acts 2 highlighted that said, ‘They ate together… they cared for each other…and the Lord added daily to their number.’” Finch shakes his head and says, “After this I heard, ‘That’s how you pastor the restaurant industry: feed them, care for them. Then watch what I’m going to do.’”
Big Table’s board of directors and staff are indeed watching what God is doing, as doors open and transformation occurs. “We’ve asked ourselves—what are the areas that if we help people in and if change were to happen, could move this person to a more abundant life?” Finch says. They’ve identified eight “trajectories of transformation” and created a custom-designed database to help track change in these areas. “We really offer a ministry of presence, but then we pay close attention to someone’s life and the areas we’ve identified as being places where transformation occurs. We look for openings to help in these areas.”
Currently operating primarily in the Inland Northwest, Big Table plans to expand to Seattle in 2014, putting a care coordinator on the ground to extend the reach of the ministry to Washington’s largest city. Chosen as Seattle’s Wine and Food Experience charity of choice the last two years, Big Table first started work in Seattle last year by helping put on a fundraiser for Chef Matthew Farrer, of Rainier Club, Crush, Willow’s Inn and Restaurant Zoe fame. This year a second fundraiser is planned to help both Farrer in his battle with cancer and establish the Saint James crisis fund with Big Table in his honor.
“When chefs, managers and owners find out about Big Table, they nearly always say, ‘I know someone who is in trouble,’” says Finch. “It is a privilege to say, ‘Big Table can help’ and then stand back and see what God does.’”