Area restaurants are giving customers the chance to change lives by dining out.
That’s the premise of the second annual United Way of Blount County program What Matters on Your Platter, developed by Aubrey’s Restaurant owner Randy Burleson.
Now through Nov. 9, restaurant patrons are asked to give a little extra when they eat out at certain Blount County dining establishments.
Burleson designed the program for people who may not have other opportunities to give to United Way.
“Restaurants are big gathering places where people are blessed with good meals, and this is a good opportunity for people to give back,” Burleson said.
Restaurants participating in the program include:
411 Miles Family Restaurant
Bella Roma Pizza & Pasta
Boomerz BBQ & Grill
Foothills Milling Company
Miss Lily’s Café
Toppers Pizza & Subs
Adam Diamond, owner of Boomerz BBQ & Grill, emphasized the importance of giving.
“We love donating as much as possible when we have it,” Diamond said. “We work with United Way on several different things, and we think it’s a really good charity to give to. We enjoy giving to them. It helps us in the long run.”
Burleson stressed that all contributions through What Matters on Your Platter help the people of Blount County, and he noted that many restaurants have joined the program because contributions will be used to support local programs.
Because all local restaurants are different, What Matters On Your Platter is multi-faceted. Some restaurants have servers tell the diners about the program at the end of their meal and give them a chance to donate when they pay, either with cash or on their credit or debit cards.
Others have opted to put United Way boxes at their cash registers for people to drop in their donations. Others offer small envelopes for patrons to put their money in -- much like they would leave a tip at the hairdressers.
The locally owned restaurants have been the ones who have embraced the program easily, Burleson said. “Talking to good local people, like at Gracie’s Restaurant, who want to keep their money in Blount County, was a great moment for me personally,” he said.
As of Tuesday afternoon more than $1.6 million had been raised to meet the Blount County United Way goal of $2.25 million. Denny and Cindy Mayes, co-chairs of the campaign, said the What Matters on Your Platter gives restaurant customers who may not work for large companies with corporate giving programs a chance to help their community through United Way.
Denny Mayes said all the special events for United Way are important to the campaign, and he praised Burleson’s leadership for helping make a way for restaurants to give back to the community.
“They don’t have employee campaigns, and this is a great way for them to give to the campaign,” he said.
Cindy Mayes said restaurant patrons shouldn’t hesitate to give a dollar to make a difference.
“It truly will make a difference for United Way, and it will go to serving the needs of our people and people less fortunate,” she said. “Ninety cents of every dollar goes directly to helping people in need.”
Ashley Schwartz, creative director of East Tennessee Rewards and a member of Burleson’s organizing committee, echoed Burleson’s sentiments.
“Local restaurants were very receptive. If there was anybody that didn’t do it, it’s because they had another program of their own going on at the same time,” Schwartz said. “Other than that, everybody just said, ‘Tell me what to do, and we’ll do it.’”
Diamond said he tries to give because it all comes back in the long run. “I’m not doing it just for myself. I’m doing it for everybody else,” he said.
Michelle Hankes, president and CEO of United Way of Blount County, said What Matters on Your Platter is a way to reach donors who haven’t been reached. “It makes giving easy a dollar at a time, and one dollar can feed a whole family of four in crisis,” Hankes said. “Monetarily any increase is wonderful, but, more importantly, it tells me the local restaurants really get behind United Way.”
Hankes said local restaurants are able to see the impact of United Way dollars to their community through their employees and the people who come and have relationships with them. “People who eat at a restaurant over and over again, you start having a very close relationship with those patrons, and United Way dollars help them make a difference in the community where those patrons live,” she said.
Jennifer Wackerhagen, vice president of resource development, said the program combines two of her favorite things: dining out and United Way.
“This is a great opportunity for people to visit these establishments and participate by making a donation to United Way,”
Wackerhagen said the majority of money raised is in the workplace. “This is just a way to approach people who otherwise may not have the opportunity to give,” she said. “This program thinks outside the box because the majority of what we raise is in the workplace. Eat out and eat out often.”
As of Tuesday at 5 p.m., United Way supporters had raised 71.1 percent of their goal of $2.25 million.
Denny Mayes said he and Cindy and the other supporters feel good about where the campaign is now. “We live in a community that’s so awesome, and it’s great they know what the need is here. Our community is going to be there and going to step up and go above and beyond the call to reach the needs of Blount County, I’m convinced of that,” he said.
As the economy has slowed, the need has become greater. “That’s why I feel we will step up and be there at victory,” he said.
Aaron Killian, communications and marketing coordinator with United Way of Blount County, contributed to this story.