Carrie Larson joined Pay It Forward Charleston in 2020 | Credit: Photo provided

Debt is such an ugly word. It means you owe something to someone. Whether it is a home mortgage, car payment or a credit card, most of us owe money somehow. On occasion, we can come up short on these bills. And it may not even be a big one. Car repairs, rent or utility payment. Sometimes, these bills can be devastating ­— especially in the food and beverage industry, where a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck.

This is where Pay It Forward Charleston steps in.

HOPS magazine recently sat down with Carrie Larson, executive director of Pay It Forward Charleston, and discussed a desire to help others in times of need.

“Our motto is serving those who serve us,” she said. “It’s our way of supporting the Charleston food and beverage community during crises.”

Larson grew up outside of Atlanta, where her father worked for Coca-Cola. She moved to Charleston to pursue a degree in corporate communications at the College of Charleston. While studying, she worked in the food and beverage industry. At the same time, she began working for Charleston’s Spoleto Festival USA and fell in love with the art of event planning. It takes more than nine months of work to do the festival, and Carrie said she enjoyed every minute of it.

While working in this community, she met her husband, Jacques Larson. He has been cooking professionally since 1992, and has helped to open some of Charleston’s favorite restaurants including Peninsula Grill, Union Hall and Mercato. He is now the executive chef at Wild Olive on Johns Island.

In 2015, Carrie Larson joined Slow Food Charleston, the local chapter of the worldwide Slow Food International organization. It is dedicated to the farm-to-table movement, conserving agricultural biodiversity and protecting traditional foods. Its mission is to promote healthy living, help sustainability and provide quality into our food system. She is now the board chair of the local chapter.

Carrie Larson’s work in the food and beverage industry shined a light on the need for occasional assistance. Most F&B workers have to pay for their own doctor’s bills since most restaurants do not offer health insurance. So when they get hurt or sick, these costs are often hard to cover. This was especially prominent during the outbreak of Covid-19.
She joined Pay It Forward Charleston in November 2020.

“Pay It Forward Charleston began as a collaboration between farmers, restaurants and community members who united in an effort to feed food and beverage workers during the COVID-19 crisis.”

The organization is the result of Michael Shemtov and the Butcher and Bee group wanting to help the Charleston community. During the Covid crisis with every $10 donated, someone would receive goods purchased at a discounted rate from local farmers. The donations helped local food producers who were affected by restaurants closing and provided fresh food to people out of work. The work was so successful that the group was able to start offering grants to help out the local food and beverage community.

“The average grant is $500 or less,” Carrie Larson said. “We try to process all applicants as quickly as possible. It doesn’t help someone to get funds a couple of months after they need it.” There are guidelines as to what a grant can be applied for. These can be found on the Pay It Forward Charleston website.

“You have to hustle working for a non-profit,” she added. “You have to find a value for a donor and fight for donor loyalty. But the job is rewarding. You get to work with people that aren’t here for a paycheck. They want to get the word out and find that community support.”

Local organizations like Holy City Brewing, Baker and Brewer, and Lowcountry Local First have held events to help raise money. The Charleston Beer Week finale, which was held at The Garden by Charles Towne Fermentory, recently also had a raffle of dozens of items donated by breweries.

If you work in the Charleston food and beverage industry, and need help, visit payitforwardcharleston.org.


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