Without a doubt, one of the industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic has been food and beverage. When restaurants were forced to close, some were able to pivot to takeout but many were forced to temporarily or permanently shutter, devastating local communities and leaving thousands of staff without jobs.
But that's precisely why the Southern Smoke Foundation exists. Founded by chef Chris Shepherd in 2015 first as a festival, two years later it evolved to a nonprofit with Hurricane Harvey and the Emergency Relief Fund. Since 2017, the Emergency Relief Fund has distributed more than $2.7 million to individuals in the food and beverage industry.
Now the fund is directing its efforts — and assistance — to those affected by the coronavirus crisis. Despite being inundated with statements of need, the fund has distributed more than $1.8 million during the pandemic, delivering on its promise to "take care of our own," as Shepherd says.
One such recipient is Libby Gerber, who has served customers at Barnaby's Cafe for "nearly a third of my life." What employees thought was going to be a 15-day shutdown, she says, turned into a complete loss of employment when the owner was forced to close the restaurant's doors. The Southern Smoke Fund was able to provide her with more than $1,300 to help with rent, car and medical insurance, gas, and her phone bill.
Bartender Mark Hernandez was not only laid off indefinitely when his employer Public Services Wine and Whiskey had to close, but he was also in a bicycle accident the same day. "I now have a fractured elbow," he says, "which will most likely keep me out of work for four to six weeks. I am currently the main financial provider at home, as my partner is in nursing school through next year." Thanks to the Southern Smoke Fund, he now has $1,430 to help pay the rent.
A server at Perry's Steakhouse & Grille, A'Breanne Torres-Ramirez watched her "normal $1,000 a week income go to completely zero." With a 3-year-old daughter and as the only source of income in her family, Torress-Ramirez began to panic as bills piled up. A grant of $1,872 is a major help to her.
Lexus is a proud partner of Chris Shepherd and supporter of the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund.