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Forsyth County couple works with local organizations to continue fundraising efforts despite pandemic
Kelly Tam
From right to left, Tam’s Tupelo Owner Kelly Tam and Operating Partner David Janowitz present a check for $6,800 to Bald Ridge Lodge Executive Director Angela Dikes following their October fundraiser.

This article appears in the November issue of  400 Life Magazine

When Brian and Kelly Tam first opened their restaurant, Tam’s BackStage, in Forsyth County more than 15 years ago, they made an important decision — every year, on the restaurant’s opening anniversary, they would do something to give back to the community in some way.

Both Kelly and Brian strongly believe in the importance of showing support to community members in the same way that community members support them and their businesses. 

“It’s that philosophy of us giving back,” Kelly said. “Honestly, I don’t believe that businesses are successful without the community embracing them, and the community has been so good to us. It’s just a part of who we are. We have to show that appreciation and give back in some way.”

Every summer when the anniversary of Tam’s BackStage comes around, and now also the anniversary of their second restaurant, Tam’s Tupelo, the couple holds a huge fundraiser to support a local nonprofit.

Kelly said that they try to “spread the wealth,” and support different beneficiaries each year. They decide on the fundraiser, in part, on where they both see a need in the community.

The Tam’s once decided to hold an annual fundraiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Forsyth to help with the purchase of an ambulance designed specifically for children. Without one, CHOA was not able to properly respond and help with emergency calls involving infants.

Over the years, the couple have held fundraisers for other local organizations and nonprofits including Jesse’s House, The Place of Forsyth, Georgia Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Humane Society of Forsyth County, the local United Way and Forsyth County Community Connection.

This year, Tam’s Tupelo held a fundraising effort to raise money for the Bald Ridge Lodge, a local nonprofit organization that provides safe haven and counseling for at-risk boys. Kelly said that with the pandemic, they were unsure how they could hold a fundraiser.

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Brian Tam
Brian Tam, co-owner of Tam’s BackStage, looks on during the restaurant’s “Helpings of Hope” event in December 2019. - photo by Brian Paglia

Normally held in July, the Tam’s decided to delay the annual event until fall while there was still so much uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a really funny year to be doing any fundraising, that’s for sure,” Kelly said. “With the nature of COVID and how it’s impacted the restaurant industry and business in general, it’s just a tough time to be doing any fundraising.”

The Tam’s decided to base the fundraiser this year on their to-go family meals, donating 50% of each family meal sold at Tam’s Tupelo for a week to the Bald Ridge Lodge. Other businesses and organizations in the area also donated to the cause, including Citizens Bank and Reid and Reid Contractors.

By the end of the week, they raised $6,800. Kelly Tam and Tam’s Tupelo Operating Partner David Janowitz visited the Bald Ridge Lodge with a huge bowl of banana pudding for the boys and a check to give to Angela Dikes, executive director at Bald Ridge Lodge.

“It’s a far cry from what we’ve done in the past, but they were very happy,” Kelly Tam said.

Brian and Kelly Tam are preparing for their Helpings of Hope event, which they usually host every year around the winter holidays at Tam’s BackStage. They work together with their families, community members and local organizations to feed seniors and families in need to provide them with a full holiday meal.

Kelly said that the event started with them helping out seniors in the community through the senior center, but over the years, it’s evolved into a community-wide event. Now, they work through many of the organizations they have supported in the past to get in touch with those they know are in need.

“It really is a coordinated effort with the organizations who are knowledgeable about families who would benefit from a good meal or they might not have a meal otherwise,” she said.

They always have plenty of others from the community who also want to help, volunteering to serve food or help in other ways. Almost every year, they see Cumming City Council members, Forsyth County Commissioners and Board of Education members signing up to volunteer.

“It’s one of the [most enjoyable] things that we do,” Kelly said. “It just brings so much joy not only to me and Brian, but it seems to bring joy to our employees and all who are helping. 

“It’s in giving that we receive. If we help one or two people, then that’s a good thing. It doesn’t have to be grand scale. It’s just the way things should go.”

For the Tam’s, there was never any question if they should still try to continue with the tradition through the pandemic, but they are still unsure of what it might look like this year.

“We’re still in negotiation on how that’s going to happen,” Kelly said. “We may have to deliver packaged meals because of COVID, or we might have to have a bigger facility than what Tam’s BackStage is [able to hold] so that we can honor social distancing and still see people.”

Whatever they choose to do, Kelly said that, despite any troubles that she and Brian may be facing during the pandemic this year, they still want to do all they can to help others in the community.

“Especially in times like this, everybody is struggling in some way,” she said. “It takes community. It takes pulling together, even just supporting one another not [just] monetarily or with food. It can be service, just doing something and just showing that we’re all here together and we’re all having struggles.”