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Published: Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 12:00 a.m. CDT

<p>(BPT) - Approximately 980,000 restaurants serve communities across the U.S., according to the <a href="http://www.restaurant.org/Home" rel="nofollow">National Restaurant Association</a> (NRA). Many have deep roots in those communities &ndash; they know the needs of their neighbors and recognize they are an integral part of everyday life.</p><p>Restaurants understand the positive impact that community involvement can have. From partnering with local charities to supporting food banks and soup kitchens, the industry has the capacity to influence and raise awareness on issues in a meaningful way. The industry&rsquo;s annual charitable activities are estimated at approximately $3 billion.</p><p>Hunger relief is a natural cause for restaurants to adopt. Roughly eight in 10 donate food as part of their charitable giving. With more than 35 million Americans living with or on the brink of hunger, the restaurant industry is in an ideal position to help those in need. In 2013, the NRA and its philanthropic foundation, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), partnered with Share Our Strength&rsquo;s Dine Out for No Kid Hungry. Thousands of restaurants and millions of consumers worked together for this national fundraising event to help make sure no child in America grows up hungry.</p><p>Hunger can strike any community at any time and restaurants are often on the front lines helping to serve those in need. Following the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla., earlier this year, former students from Olathe Public Schools&rsquo; ProStart program &ndash; the NRAEF&rsquo;s two-year high school program that trains students in culinary techniques to management skills &ndash; traveled from Kansas to prepare approximately 3,500 hot meals for affected families.</p><p>Additionally, restaurants are supporting their communities in unique and creative ways besides hunger relief. King Eider&rsquo;s Pub in Damariscotta, Maine, knew that, due to the down economy, some of its neighbors were having to decide between buying groceries for their families and paying their heating bill. The pub established the Lincoln County Community Energy fund to help people pay their heating bills in the cold winter months. Because of its commitment to its community, King Elder&rsquo;s Pub won the NRAEF&rsquo;s 2012 Restaurant Neighbor Award. Sponsored by American Express, the award celebrates outstanding charitable service by restaurant operators.</p><p>In 2011, the NRAEF&rsquo;s Restaurant Neighbor Award winner, Kona Kai, partnered with the Halo Network Foundation to offer a six-week training program for people in need. The program included on-the-job training in espresso-making and other foodservice and hospitality skills. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, a McDonald&rsquo;s franchisee closed a restaurant for renovations, but set aside money to pay employees to volunteer during the process. Forty employees participated in the volunteer program.</p><p>The NRAEF has found that charitable programs are more successful when employees are actively involved. Today, the industry wants to be more involved with charities, serving on boards and offering volunteer opportunities for staff. An employee-driven initiative helps boost morale, as well. Employees feel good knowing they are not only doing their job, but also are making a difference in the lives of those in need.</p><p>Giving back to the community is a way to give thanks to the patrons that support their favorite restaurants 365 days a year.</p> <img src='http://www.brandpointcontent.com/printsite/ImageWriter.ashx?articleid=18154&memberid=8729' border='0' width='1' height='1' />

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