When Lori Newcomb found out she had stage III ovarian cancer last year, she made it her mission to learn more about the disease and help other women fighting the same battle. She sat down with her husband, Chris Newcomb, cofounder and CEO of Southern quick-service chain Newk’s Eatery, and together they decided Newk’s would make a great platform for raising money and awareness for ovarian cancer research.
“In the past, Newk’s has participated in lots of different charitable events, but it was funny because this one actually landed on our plate. We definitely didn’t ask for it, but it landed there,” says Lori Newcomb. “What we found out is that we have so many Newk’s family members, as we call them, that have been touched by ovarian cancer—whether it’s a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a dear friend—and it was just amazing once we started talking about it.”
During the month of September, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Newk’s Eatery changed the color of its signature black cup to teal, the color for ovarian cancer awareness. Diners were encouraged to donate to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF).
Sabrina Valvo, OCRF director of communications, says the company was more than happy to partner with Newk’s Eatery because the partnership “enabled OCRF to reach a new audience, while raising much-needed awareness and funds for ovarian cancer research.”
According to the OCRF, ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the U.S. and is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death among American women. About 22,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, while more than 15,500 women die from the disease.
“Because ovarian cancer is a bit of a silent cancer, it’s not as talked about as some of the other female cancers,” Newcomb says. “You quietly move through your chemotherapy and diagnosis, and it doesn’t have as much social media attached to it.”
The company is hoping to change that. Newk’s Eatery topped off Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month with an “Ovarian Cycle” spin event in Jackson, Mississippi. While scouring the Internet to learn more about the disease and how to help raise awareness, Newcomb, an avid spinner, stumbled upon the event.
“When I found the fundraiser, I thought, Oh my goodness! This is my dream. We have to somehow get involved with this, and bring this to Jackson, and help raise money for ovarian cancer,” she says.
About 120 people attended the Ovarian Cycle spin event. Participants biked four one-hour rides, and after the last ride of the day, Newk’s Eatery presented the OCRF with a check for $117,500.
For other restaurants hoping to raise money for a charity, Chris Newcomb suggests planning at least five months ahead and setting goals such as how much money you want to raise. He also recommends planning creative means for getting the word out about the fundraiser. Lori Newcomb urges restaurant operators to find a cause they wholeheartedly believe in.
According to the 2014 National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (nraef) study “Who Works in the U.S. Restaurant Industry,” 90 percent of restaurant operators said their restaurant business made a charitable contribution in 2012. The industry’s annual charitable activities are estimated to be more than $3 billion. But not many of these fundraising initiatives stem from deep ties to a cause, as Newk’s work around ovarian cancer awareness does.
“I think it’s really important that as a team you find something that you are all very passionate about,” Lori Newcomb says. “We’re a family here, and everybody was touched by this, so it was very much a part of their hearts to want to help. I think that that’s important when you’re choosing a charity for all of your company and your restaurants to get behind.”
Choosing a relevant philanthropic effort to support is as simple as taking a look at what needs to be addressed in a restaurant’s neighborhood, says Alyssa Prince, NRAEF communications director. She uses hunger relief as an example of a charitable program that fits well within a restaurant company.
“Hunger relief is a natural connection for restaurants, as we are in the business of feeding and serving people, and if we can take that message into the community and help others in need with what we do best, it is a logical fit for our industry,” she says.
Prince suggests restaurants get involved with food banks, church pantries, or soup kitchens by donating food as part of their philanthropic efforts. The days of simply writing a charitable check and sending it off are gone, she adds. Now, restaurants are expected to engage with the charities they support through active employee participation such as serving on boards and volunteering time.
Chris and Lori Newcomb plan to raise funds for ovarian cancer annually during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Their goal is to host the Ovarian Spin cycle event in more Southern cities where Newk’s Eatery has locations.
“Chris and I are both the type of people that when we’re challenged with something, we try to figure it out, and we try to fix it,” Lori Newcomb says. “I couldn’t really fix that I had cancer, but I could fix maybe the early detection, help with the research, maybe help someone else so that in the future if they were going to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, maybe they were diagnosed at an earlier stage like stage I or stage II, instead of stage III or stage IV where so many of them are diagnosed.”