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Pacific Beach nonprofit helps restaurant worker access care for multiple sclerosis

Edgar Uribe (left) with Piatti customer Martha Ehringer and Jesse Vigil of Big Table.
Edgar Uribe (left) stands with Piatti restaurant customer Martha Ehringer and Jesse Vigil of Big Table, which helped Uribe access treatment for his multiple sclerosis.
(Courtesy)

Edgar Uribe has multiple sclerosis that went untreated for a decade, until a local nonprofit stepped in to connect him with the care he needed.

Uribe, a busser for eight of his 10 years at Piatti restaurant in La Jolla, has been receiving medical care facilitated and paid for by Big Table, a faith-based nonprofit that works to connect workers in the food service and hotel industries with whatever assistance they need. The San Diego chapter of Big Table is based in Pacific Beach.

Uribe said his MS “didn’t get really bad until last year.” He tried to find treatment, which proved difficult due to his citizenship status, he said. “I didn’t get any help.”

Uribe was referred to Big Table through Piatti guest Martha Ehringer, who complimented Uribe’s hard work to the restaurant’s manager, Tom Spano. Uribe was “charming, sweet and helpful,” she said.

When she learned of Uribe’s MS, Ehringer spoke to Spano about referring him to Big Table, which she had just learned about as outreach chairwoman for St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in La Jolla.

Jesse Vigil, city director for the San Diego chapter of Big Table, said Spano submitted the referral for Uribe. Big Table does not accept self-referrals.

Uribe “is a great guy,” Spano said. “He works as hard as he can; he’s a good person in and out. We hope his MS can be halted, if not reversed.”

Big Table “got me a doctor, who prescribed steroids,” Uribe said, which “calm down my nervous system.”

“Basically what happens is, when I get an [immune system] attack like allergies, my immune system attacks [the allergies] but at the same time attacks my brain and spine,” he said.

The steroids, Uribe said, have helped keep his MS under control for the past year.

Vigil said he met Uribe in November 2019 and was able to connect him with a doctor within a day. He accompanied Uribe to his first appointment to pay for the treatment.

“I’m so grateful,” Uribe said. “It has helped me so much.”

He said Big Table has since helped his mother, who also works in the restaurant industry, with her dental bills.

Big Table, which started in Spokane, Wash., in 2009 and also has a location in Seattle, launched in San Diego in March 2019 and has seen the number of people helped surge since the coronavirus pandemic began earlier this year and cost about 77,000 local hospitality workers their jobs.

The nonprofit helps hospitality workers with “anything and everything,” Vigil said, including connecting people with medical and mental health services, car repair and food and housing aid.

“We focus on specific needs,” Vigil said, “whatever the situation is.”

The San Diego chapter says it has helped approximately 600 people in 2020, a ninefold increase over the 67 people it assisted in 2019.

Uribe has kept his job through the pandemic but said wearing a mask at work aggravates his condition. “It was hard to work without a mask; imagine having a restriction, trying to breathe,” he said.

Uribe said he’s thankful for the support of Piatti throughout his treatment and the pandemic. “I’m blessed to work there.”

Though Vigil said he’s Uribe’s care coordinator, Uribe often will text him to ask about his welfare. “It’s a relationship; ‘rewarding’ doesn’t begin to describe it,” Vigil said.

“Jesse’s like my big brother,” Uribe said.

Though Big Table is faith-based, founded by a former pastor, the organization cares for everybody, “with no strings attached,” Vigil said.

For more information about referrals or to participate in Big Table’s virtual fundraiser Friday, Nov. 13, visit big-table.com/san-diego-eatw.


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