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Are You An Out-Of-Work Restaurant Or Bar Worker? Southern Smoke’s $4 Million Relief Fund Can Help

Despite launching in August, Southern Smoke Foundation leaders say they still have $3.6 million to help restaurant and bar industry workers in Cook County.

The Red Barrel restaurant near Midway Airport.
Chicago Mayor's Office
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CHICAGO — Cook County restaurant, bar and coffee shop employees can apply to a relief fund that has more than $3 million to give to workers struggling financially because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Southern Smoke Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit, established the Chicago Restaurant Worker Relief Fund in August to help people who have been laid off or lost work as coronavirus restrictions limit restaurant service, Executive Director Kathryn Lott said.

The fund, open to industry workers throughout Cook County, was made possible after a $4 million donation, Lott said. 

But since launching last summer, the foundation has only received 1,028 applications and given out $386,425 to 140 families. The average grant is $2,500-$3,000, Lott said.

That means $3.6 million remain available for struggling workers, Lott said.

“We try to get someone up and out of crisis,” Lott said.

To be considered for assistance for the Chicago 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. Applicants must be able to show proof of employment.

The foundation is vetting applications and prioritizing based on urgency, Lott said. The team is meeting daily to approve and give away grants, Lott said.

“Everything is a case-by-case basis,” Lott said.

There is the possibility of more funding: The private donor is also matching up to $1 million in donations, Lott said. If that goal is met, there’d be a total of $6 million in relief funds. You can donate to the fund here.

Southern Smoke was launched in 2015 to raise money for multiple sclerosis research and advocacy. The group shifted gears in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, providing financial assistance to workers in the food and beverage industry affected by the disaster.

Eater first reported Southern Smoke Foundation’s effort.

Since launching the Chicago operations, the Southern Smoke Foundation has hired furloughed workers from the industry, Lott said.

Industry workers outside of Cook County can apply to the nonprofit’s national emergency fund.

Apply for the Chicago Restaurant Worker Relief Fund here. Donate to support the fund here.

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