Honoring Our Communities and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 11, 2018

Darden is committed to community involvement throughout the year, but lending a hand takes on even greater importance during the winter holidays and leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday Jan. 15.

Honouring communitiesFor more than a dozen years, LongHorn Steakhouse Managing Partner Leeann Pulliam has taken that commitment to heart in partnerships with local high schools. In December, the restaurant in Cleveland, TN, threw a holiday party for about 75 teens with special needs from Cleveland High School who receive job training at the restaurant.

The students enjoyed lunch, awards and a visit from Santa Claus, portrayed with extra flair by Server Brandon Fleming. He bought a large toy sack, filled it with candy and handed some to each child. “It was a showstopper,” Leeann said. “The kids went wild.”

Each of the students, accompanied by a mentor from their school, works regular hour-long shifts at the restaurant. They learn skills such as prepping food and measuring ingredients so they can find jobs after graduation. “They want to work and look forward to coming to our restaurant,” she said. “My team and I love seeing the light in their eyes.

"Helping other people is nourishment for the soul. Once you do it, it’s infectious and you want to do more. Every year my team members line up to volunteer their time so these kids can have a great party.”

Here are a few other recent examples of Darden team members giving back to their communities:

  • The Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen restaurant in Port St. Lucie, FL, collected 500 toys for Toys for Tots in December. Beverage Manager John Welch spearheaded the drive, but the entire team participated.
  • The Capital Grille in Boca Raton, FL, joined other restaurants to serve the needy a sumptuous Christmas lunch of turkey, casseroles and vegetables. Managing Partner Bobby Boribong, who provided mashed potatoes and beef stew, said the experience was humbling. Three hundred people dined on white tablecloths in the food court of the upscale mall where The Capital Grille is located.
  • About 100 people from Darden’s Restaurant Support Center (RSC) in Orlando pitched in. Both the Olive Garden and Communications & Public Affairs teams prepared boxed items and sweet potatoes for distribution at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. The Corporate Tax team helped A Gift For Teaching by unpacking rulers and erasers, assembling lanyards, separating art supplies and tape, and organizing the store, which is free for teachers.

In addition, Darden restaurants donated 8 million pounds of food through the Harvest Food Donation Program in fiscal 2017. The Darden Foundation has awarded more than $86 million in grants to organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs and Feeding America. Darden also partners with the American Red Cross to help people affected by disasters.