By Shelby Steuart
UGA alumnus Bryan Schroeder is the executive director of Atlanta-based nonprofit, The Giving Kitchen, which was recently recognized with the James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award.
Bryan Schroeder has a longer work history than many people his age. “My career in food service and with food service started when I was three days old,” he explained. Born to entrepreneurial parents who had their hearts set on owning a restaurant, Bryan came into the world at the same time as the Schroeder’s New Deli.
Growing up in the restaurant, he held almost every position – dishwasher, prep cook, fry cook, pizza cook, sandwich cook, and server – by the time he was 18. Once he graduated high school, he thought he would never go back.
During and after his time in college, however, he felt drawn to social service.
That drive to improve the lives of others led him to UGA to pursue a graduate degree in nonprofit management, which was – at the time – a joint program between the School of Social Work and SPIA. Schroeder enjoyed the dual department program because he felt it gave him a balanced view of the skills and experience he would need to make his mark.
During Schroeder’s masters’ program, Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. After graduating in 2006, Schroeder spent two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer, repairing houses damaged by the natural disaster and fulfilling his desire to help others.
Afterwards, Schroeder went to work for the Georgia Conservancy, an organization that seeks to conserve Georgia’s land and water resources. Over ten years, he advanced from being a donor coordinator to the senior director of fundraising and marketing.
About two years ago, he was offered a position at the Giving Kitchen. “The mission really spoke to me,” he recalled, “growing up in food service, the wonderful parts of working for a restaurant were apparent but so were the really bad parts.”
Schroeder’s experiences in public service gave him a new perspective on the struggles of working in food service. For example, food service workers experience disproportionately high levels of poverty and work instability. Not to mention, most of them are not eligible for benefits, like employer-covered health insurance or paid medical leave.
The Giving Kitchen seeks to mitigate these instabilities by providing crisis grants to help food service workers in the face of catastrophe and a network to help get them connected to social services available to them.
Schroeder reflects, “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to give back to a community that gives so much to our culture.”
This year, the Giving Kitchen was recognized with the 2019 Humanitarian of the Year Award by the James Beard Foundation, which recognizes organizations that work to benefit the restaurant community.
“A James Beard award is one of the highest recognitions of excellence and achievement for those who labor in the culinary arts world,” Schroeder explained. He concluded by stating that he looks forward to the increased credibility that the award gives The Giving Kitchen and is excited for the opportunity to expand its scope of service.
To learn more about The Giving Kitchen, check out their website: https://thegivingkitchen.org/