MIAMI (CBSMiami) – South Florida’s restaurant and hospitality business is one of the most financially devastated by the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But South Florida’s biggest food event is stepping up to help out.

FIU’s Chaplain School of Hospitality and Tourism Management is partnering with the South Beach Wine and Food Festival to create a Hospitality Industry Relief Fund.  The relief fund will provide immediate financial support to independently owned and operated restaurants and bars impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.

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It has raised more than one million dollars through earnings from the festival itself and private donations such as the Estefan’s, Pitbull and others.

The festival’s founder, Lee Schrager said the money there now will be distributed to the restaurants who qualify within 72 hours. It will go directly to employees.

“The money we raised, every penny over a million dollars, is staying in South Florida. The first criteria for the hundreds of restaurants is that they have participated in the festival. the next round will go to everyone else. We want to make sure the money gets into the hands of the hospitality locally.”

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Grants of up to $15,000 will be provided to help owners pay their employees and provide other benefits to employees who have been furloughed, laid off or whose incomes have been significantly reduced due to the pandemic.

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Business owners must apply for the grant, but the money is intended to be given directly to employees, up to $500 per person.

“The Festival’s success over the past two decades has been dependent on the support and participation of so many talented chefs, restaurant owners, and bartenders from our local community,” said Schrager. “With the hospitality industry facing unprecedented devastation, it’s our turn to give back to the people in the industry who have been there for us, and we are prepared to come to their aid now, when they need us the most.”

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CLICK HERE to apply for a relief grant or to donate to the fund.