Workforce

Southern Smoke Foundation plans to double its no-cost mental health services for foodservice workers

The Behind You program will connect those in the food-and-beverage industry to counselors in five more states. The nonprofit hopes to raise $1 million to support the expansion.
restaurant worker
The Behind You program is available in five states currently. By this summer, services will be available in 10 states. | Photo: Shutterstock.

It is an understatement to say there is a need for more mental health services for workers in the foodservice industry.

Hoping to meet that need, the Houston-based Southern Smoke Foundation, or SSF, is planning this summer to double the size of its Behind You mental health program, which specifically provides counseling and other mental health services to folks who work in the food and beverage world.

Launched in 2017 by Houston chef and restaurateur Chris Shepherd and Executive Director Lindsey Brown, SSF was designed to offer both emergency relief grants for food-and-beverage workers in need, as well as access to affordable mental health services through Behind You, which launched in 2020.

In the five states currently served, the foundation has partnered with universities with graduate level clinical programs to connect foodservice workers with free telehealth counseling services with student clinicians. More than 5,100 counseling sessions have been offered at no cost to foodservice workers across five states, including California, Illinois, Louisiana, New York and Texas.

This summer, the program will be available in five more states: Maine, Massachusetts, Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, as well as Washington, D.C.

To support that expansion, the nonprofit is hoping to raise $1 million this year, and chefs and restaurateurs across the country are participating in a fundraising effort that began May 1. They’re calling it the Million for Mental Health campaign.

Tom Colicchio’s Crafted Hospitality, for example, is offering specials with sales dedicated to the program. Others are adding a donation line to receipts inviting guests to participate. In New York, pastry chef Caroline Schiff is hosting a citywide bake sale from May 18-19 with proceeds dedicated to SSF. A state-by-state listing of promotions can be found here.

“In the F&B industry, we’re in the business of taking care of people. But we can’t take care of people if we can’t take care of ourselves,” said Schiff in a statement. “Mental health care is essential for our community, and thanks to Southern Smoke, it’s now accessible at no cost. Please support their efforts, so they can continue to support us!”

To qualify for the Behind You program, applicants must be currently employed as a food-and-beverage worker, working at least 30 hours per week for a minimum of six months. Those who live outside the states currently served can apply for an emergency relief grant to cover the cost of mental health needs. Here’s where to apply.

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