When Mariner Kemper was deciding where to best direct his and his family’s financial resources during the coronavirus pandemic, the co-trustee of the Kemper family foundations and president of UMB Financial Corporation thought about the hardest hit industries—and how much he enjoys dining out. “I love going to restaurants,” Kemper says. “Restaurants don’t have big budgets; they don’t have deep pockets. It felt right to focus our energy there.”

That energy came in the form of a $1 million donation from several Kemper foundations to the Colorado Restaurant Foundation to establish the Independent Restaurant Workers Relief Fund (IRWRF). The fund is distributing one-time grants of up to $1,000 to help Colorado-based restaurant workers financially impacted by COVID-19, whether they have recovered from the virus; are quarantining under a doctor’s care; are unable to receive government assistance; or were laid off, had their hours reduced, or were furloughed because of the restaurant closures. (The Colorado Restaurant Foundation also offers grants to all restaurant employees, not just ones who work at independent restaurants, through its general Angel Relief Fund.)

“Obviously all restaurants in Colorado and across America have been impacted the same way, but the thinking behind [supporting] the independents only was that we wanted to focus on where the greatest need was,” Kemper says. “Small and independent restaurants don’t have the same resources.”

So far, the IRWRF has given out 326 grants totaling $163,000, and it hopes to distribute a total of $1 million in May; more grants are forthcoming should additional donations come in. The Kemper family foundations made similar donations to Missouri and Arizona restaurant associations, where UMB bank also has a large presence. “The only reason we announced it publicly is in the hopes others will join us,” Kemper says. “In the hopes of promoting it and raising more money.”

To ensure that smaller mom-and-pop restaurants and their workers know about these grants, the Colorado Restaurant Foundation is reaching out to various organizations to help spread the word. “We are actively trying to reach anyone in the state who qualifies for these grants,” says Mary Mino, Colorado Restaurant Foundation president. “This includes outreach to organizations who work with undocumented workers, who qualify under one of our four major grant criteria—reaching and funding them is a priority for us. We’ve also reached out to groups like the Hispanic Chamber, and are continuing to explore other avenues of outreach.”

You can help, too. Every donation to the Angel Relief Fund goes directly to local hospitality workers experiencing financial hardship. If you’re a hospitality worker in need of assistance, apply here for one of the Angel Relief Fund COVID-19 and IRWRF grants.

Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy is a freelance writer and ice cream fanatic living in Broomfield.