click to enlarge Jordan and Aurora Coffey: "I don't think I've ever met anyone in this industry who had health insurance."
Jordan and Aurora Coffey: "I don't think I've ever met anyone in this industry who had health insurance."
Luminary Kitchen and Provisions hosted its first restaurant industry health and wellness fair July 26 at Luminary restaurant. The event brought food service and hospitality workers together with health care providers and representatives from various branches of Memorial Health Systems as well as Flow Yoga and the American Cancer Society. This was an effort to spark conversations and create opportunities for food service workers to get the health care many desperately need.

Aurora Coffey, the chef and co-owner of Luminary with her husband, Jordan, explained that she wanted to create a forum to connect restaurant workers with the resources they needed to care for their well-being.

"I've been doing this work my whole adult life, and I don't think I've ever met anyone in this industry who had health insurance," Coffey explained. "It's always been this thing that we joke about, that as restaurant people we're so tough and show up, and show up even when we don't feel good, and push through it. It was never really OK, but I think since COVID, health has taken on a new importance for a lot of people. Recently one of our employees wasn't feeling well. He was really worried, but he was still refusing to go to a doctor because he didn't know how he would pay for it. So we did what we always do and banded together to figure out where he could go to get help. It's become a running thing with us and our staff that if somebody's sick we try to figure out who we know who can help them out. We're in an incredibly privileged position to have those kind of contacts, but that's not the case for everybody."

Coffey explained that many restaurant workers go years without basic medical care. "I've known people who haven't seen a gynecologist in decades or don't get teeth fixed or ignore mental health problems because they don't think they have a choice. People just assume that it'll be way too expensive to deal with but there's actually a lot of community resources out there and folks that'll work out flexible payment options if you know how to access them."

On hand for this first event was Amber Olson, LCSW, director of Behavioral Therapy services at Memorial Behavioral Health with information about the range of services they offer, including the Living Room. "It's open Monday through Friday, noon to 8 p.m.," Olson explained, "and is available to anyone, whether they're insured or not. It's completely free. If folks are stressed and need someone to talk to in the moment, there's someone available to talk to them. We can also help people access resources like the food pantry or how to apply for Medicaid."

Additional providers from Memorial Health System in attendance included nurses and social workers, as well as Dr. Nicole Florence from Memorial Weight Loss and Wellness Center with information about nutrition, sleep hygiene, diabetes risk factors and the various ways that individuals can improve their health through food lifestyle changes. "One thing about COVID is that now a lot of people are finally ready to address major health issues like obesity or diabetes and we have a wide range of support options available," Florence said.

Flow Yoga studio was at the event as well, with information about their accessible schedules and the importance of mindfulness and meditation, especially for restaurant workers. "It was my goal to have a studio that was community-focused and affordable, and we try to offer class times that make sense for people who work nontraditional hours, including restaurant folks," explained owner Ashley Krstulovich.

Coffey hopes that this first event will help shed light on what she believes is a huge and largely ignored issue. "We'd like to see this become a recurring event, not always at Luminary, but try to get it going in different restaurants in other parts of town. Especially now that restaurants have super minimal staffing it's even more important that the folks who are there working are taking care of themselves and have resources for when they get sick. There's nothing tough about neglecting yourself."

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