A Wilton Manors based non-profit is raising money to provide financial help for bartenders and servers who lost their jobs when COVID-19 forced the closure of restaurants and bars.
“We are trying to assist the employees of Wilton Manors businesses who have now found themselves unemployed,” said Toni Taha, marketing coordinator for the Wilton Manors Entertainment Group (WMEG), which provides resources, guidance, and continuity for city-sponsored cultural, social, and educational events.
Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis directed all restaurants and food establishments in Florida to suspend all dine-in food and beverage consumption for customers but is allowing restaurants to operate for take-out and delivery orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The directive put legions of workers in the service industry out of work.
Approximately 30% of the city’s workforce, or more than 7,300 workers, relied on tips for more than half their income, Taha said.
Bars and restaurants line Wilton Drive from Dixie Highway to19th Street with more scattered throughout the city. He is hoping the online fundraiser will help some of the struggling wait staff.
“It’s great that people are stepping up to try to find ways we can all help and support each other. Everyone wants the government to fix the problems, but we are not incapable of ourselves. We have plenty of resources,” said Julietta Wenzel, president of Wilton Manors Business Association (WMBA), which has a membership of about 200. WMBA is running the fundraiser along with WMEG.
“When we come out on the other side of this everyone is going to want these businesses to be there for them. The only way we can do this is to step up and help them survive,” Wenzel said.
Mike Connell, the owner of the Pub, said any assistance is good news.
Connell, who bought the landmark bar at 2283 Wilton Drive 2 and a half years ago with co-owner Alex Sadeghi, had to lay off about 38 bartenders and servers. The bar’s closure also put about 20 drag, queen performers, out of work as well.
And although his business is open for takeout, the amount of money he’s been bringing in barely covers the salary of a cook.
“It’s very, very tough for people in our industry right now. That is their livelihood and most people live paycheck to paycheck, which makes it even harder,” Connell said.
Connell said he will be promoting the WeAreWilton initiative on his website in hopes that more people will donate to the cause.
Interested in helping out? Go to WeAreWilton.Love and click on the donate button to begin the process. The fundraiser is powered by the crowdfunding site GoFundMe so if at any time a donor cannot access the website’s donation link, they can go directly to the donation page itself by searching gofundme.com/f/we-are-wilton.
All donations are 100% tax-deductible.
Taha said the fund has raised $1,500 to date, with a long-term goal of $200,000.
The fundraising site WeAreWilton.Love urges donors to “help support the employees that make up the Wilton Manors experience and remind us why ‘Life’s Just Better Here.’”
It notes that “workers in resorts, bars, and restaurants that rely heavily on tips need your help to replace lost wages.”
To apply for assistance, laid-off workers must complete a short application, that asks where in Wilton Manors they were employed, how long they worked there, and if they are currently employed. The online application also requests that applicants upload a pay stub and provide bank account information needed for direct deposit.
For now, organizers are just hoping people will contribute.
“We want to get as much as we can to help,” Taha said.