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Created to help chef battling cancer, nonprofit now aids restaurant workers in crisis

Aug. 18, 2014 at 8:04 AM ET

When a beloved Atlanta chef suddenly found himself in need, the city's restaurant community came together to help. 

And what began as an effort to help one man quickly became much more.

In December 2012, Ryan Hidinger and his wife, Jen, were closing in on their dream of opening a restaurant. Then the 35-year-old learned he had Stage IV cancer. 

"Being diagnosed late — right before, right before Christmas of 2012 — was definitely a hit to the soul and the heart," Jen Hidinger told TODAY.

Friends mobilized to raise money so the the Hidingers could focus on Ryan's treatment, not their mounting bills. That initial fundraiser — Team Hidi — brought in nearly $300,000.

It soon morphed into The Giving Kitchen, a nonprofit that offers hardship grants to the Atlanta restaurant community. 

Video: When chef Ryan Hidinger was stricken with cancer, the Atlanta restaurant community reached out to help. Now his legacy lives on in the form of a restaurant whose profits will help other restaurant workers facing medical challenges. TODAY’s Erica Hill reports.

"There's people all over our city, in our industry, that are one crisis away from just financial disaster," Ryan Turner, one of The Giving Kitchen's co-founders, said.

In a little over a year, The Giving Kitchen has helped dozens of restaurant workers, providing grants to cover basic living expenses such as rent and utilities for those facing hardships. 

"My husband was a very selfless, very kind and very talented person," Jen said. "He knew really early on that it had to be way more than just about one person and one couple."

Ryan Hidinger and wife Jen
TODAY

Although Ryan lost his battle with cancer in January 2014, his wife is continuing with their dream of opening a restaurant — it's a dream that's taken on new meaning. 

Staplehouse opens in Atlanta later this year, and will donate its after-tax profits directly to The Giving Kitchen. 

"It will be driven by a community who are focused on helping others, and know the bigger reason why we're here," Jen said.

It's a powerful testament to a man whose own battle has now turned into a fight to help so many others.

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