New $4 Million Fund Supports Chicago Restaurant Workers

Anonymous donors gave millions to Southern Smoke Foundation to help restaurant, bar, and coffee shop workers in Cook County, Illinois.

In 2015, Houston chef Chris Shepherd created the Southern Smoke Foundation to support hospitality workers in crisis. Five years later, facing perhaps the biggest crisis of all in the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit has swelled in size to support thousands of struggling food and beverage workers.

In July, Southern Smoke announced a new emergency relief fund to support Chicago-based restaurant, bar, and coffee workers in crisis, having raised $4 million from anonymous donors to be distributed specifically to people in the city.

Masked restaurant worker
Getty Images / Westend61

So far, the Chicago Restaurant Workers Relief Fund has distributed over $280,000 in Cook County, Illinois. Since mid-March, Southern Smoke has given over $3 million nationally to more than 2,000 people in crisis.

“They have been doing great work for years, but kicked it into high gear at a time when the industry needed it the most," said Chicago chef Brian Jupiter, of Frontier and Ina Mae Tavern. "Since March, the Chicago hospitality industry has really come together to help and support one another in any way they can.”

In May, Food & Wine partnered with Southern Smoke to help support the individuals most affected by the industry-wide shutdown. "This should be a system that is set up in every single state," said Shepherd. "Because it works."

To qualify for the Chicago Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, applicants must have worked in the food and beverage industry for a minimum of six months and an average of 30 hours per week minimum. Every applicant must show proof of such employment, such as paycheck stubs and/or W2s available. (Note: Any farmers, distillers, wine makers, etc. that aren’t employed directly by restaurants, bars, or coffee shops are encouraged to apply for the national fund.)

The application for the Chicago Restaurant Workers Relief Fund is here.

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