Joshua Gehlbach, known affectionately as Big Josh, was a 6’8’’ tall, service industry powerhouse. Those who frequented Miller’s Field in PB would have been warmly greeted by the loud, big-hearted bartender. And his extended family was made up by those Big Josh called friend.
In July 2016, Big Josh was diagnosed with cancer. His friends and service industry family rallied around him and put on local fundraisers to help ease the cost of treatment. This quickly brought to light the reality that many in the service industry are without a safety net or the financial security necessary to weather such a storm.
From this experience the Big Josh Foundation was born - to support ‘patient zero,’ Josh Gehlbach; and to provide that safety net for those in the service industry who might fall on similar hard times in the future. The Big Josh Foundation was formally established as a nonprofit, 501(c)3 in September 2016. Their mission is “focused on giving financial and counseling support to people diagnosed as terminally ill.”
Big Josh Foundation, co-founder, David Robins, explained, “The legacy of Josh and the Big Josh Foundation is to really provide that emotional and financial support for the person and family with a focus on those who are terminally ill. [The service industry] is a community, it’s a family. We want to help those in our industry who don’t necessarily have the resources - financially or otherwise. We want to make sure we’re taking care of San Diego first, but also want to set up a template so that other cities can do this. That every community in the hospitality industry can do the same thing.”
In addition to being a resource to those who may find themselves terminally ill, the Foundation has a long term goal to create a template that other cities throughout the country can use and in turn take care of their service industry community.
“The premise is, in our industry we have to pay taxes on our tips,” elaborated David, “But when it comes to disability, you get 55% of your hourly pay, and that’s it. So if you get sick, you don’t lose 45% of your income, you lose close to 80% of your income. And it’s not just the cost of treatment, there’s the cost of living, the cost of changing your diet, medications, your spouse may be out of work to care for you...We want there to be resources and programs like the Big Josh Foundation throughout the country to help members of the hospitality industry who find themselves sick out of the blue. So that they can concentrate to getting better and not be worrying about paying bills on top of everything else.”
Josh’s wife, Katie, did take time off work to be by his side while he went through treatment. They were able to be together and focus on Josh getting well because the Big Josh Foundation and its fundraising efforts could ease the financial burden for them. Josh, unfortunately, lost his battle with cancer in March 2017. At his celebration of life, the Foundation’s co-founder, Patrick Giblin used words like “influence, humility and strength” to invoke Josh, and he described Josh and Katie’s relationship as “inspiring”.
To realize Josh's legacy, the Big Josh Foundation will continue their community based fundraising efforts as they create resources and provide emotional support to service industry friends struck with a life-threatening diagnosis. On Sunday, June 4th, Industry Boxing returns to downtown San Diego and will take place on the rooftop of the Hard Rock Hotel. A portion of the Industry Boxing proceeds will be donated to The Big Josh Foundation. Many of those involved in this event either knew Josh personally or had been privy to the many Big Josh stories, so this hits close to home throughout the San Diego service industry community. You can purchase tickets to the Rooftop Rumble - Industry Boxing event now. To find out more about the Big Josh Foundation, and to donate, click here.