Just as we were feeling overwhelmed by the number of volunteer opportunities and donation solicitations this time of year, Veronica Murphy, a server at Larkin's restaurant in Eagle Rock, reminded us that sometimes giving is as simple as looking next door.
“A woman who lives in my neighborhood has a baby on the way with four other children that are hers or she's [fostering],” says the 51-year-old waitress, who organizes the restaurant's annual adopt-a-family program every year with the support of co-owners Larkin Mackey, the restaurant's chef, and Joshua McBride. “The father of the baby was shot a few months ago, so she's working double shifts to try and feed everyone. We choose a different family every year, usually someone who we just really feel needs our help. I thought she really needed our help.”
Every year, Larkin's collects cash donations for one family in need that will be used to buy gift certificates for groceries and other essential items. They are also accepting wrapped gifts for the children, ages 5 to 14-years-old, until December 24th (those who donate receive 15% off that great fried chicken and catfish).
“My family was very poor growing up,” says Murphy, stuffing a few bills into a tattered donation envelope. “We had a lot of problems so I was in foster care a lot — that's why I started doing this. I remember how much it meant, when I was a kid, when other families did this for me and my family at the holidays. I just think if you see someone who needs help, you help them if you can, you know?”
Earlier this year, Murphy raised money to buy a gift certificate for the restaurant's head cook who was struggling to put dinner on the table at home. “He's got a daughter with cerebral palsy, and he's working two jobs to try and cover that. He needed grocery money. We're like family here at the restaurant.”
Murphy says the response to the adopt-a-family program has been good in years past, but she was late to the game this year. “Yeah, we need to put a sign out telling people about it,” she says, calling out to a server. “'Hey Jessica, do you think you can do that right now? You make the best signs around here. We need to tell people about this.'”
“People have been very generous, we've even had a few celebrities like Hilary Duff's sister come in here who have been nice to us,” says Murphy. “But the best part is delivering the gifts. Last year, the family we donated to asked if the 'elves' were coming again.”
She smiles. “The [restaurant owners and their families] are really small people. You know, they do kind of look like elves.”
Donations and wrapped gifts are being accepted at the restaurant through December 24th.
[More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com]