How These Miami Game Changers Have Stepped Up And Given Back This Spring

Since March, almost every industry has been negatively impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19, causing our city to shut down—save for a few essential businesses—and stay at home, with the goal of slowing the curve of the spread of the virus. Due to the shutdown, frontline workers were overloaded, and many left without proper protective equipment (PPE), while the hospitality industry took a huge hit, causing thousands of Miami residents to be left without jobs. However, through this tough time, the community joined together and gave back to keep the city alive, aiding those who needed it most during this time. And this movement was largely impacted by a few select game changers, who went above and beyond to ensure that our city’s frontline workers and businesses had support.

Below, we chat with some of the most influential individuals who gave back this Spring.

Lee Brian Schrager, SVP Communications & Social Responsibility for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits / Founder of SOBEWFF & NYCWFF

Lee Brian Schrager
Lee Brian Schrager

Photo Credit: World Red Eye

HL: Tell us all about the Lee Brian Schrager Bake Sale – how did you create the concept?

LBS: The bake sale really came from my desire to find a way to raise additional money and awareness for the SOBEWFF® & FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Industry Relief Fund, which we launched at the end of March. Like most people, I was desperate to leave my house, so I thought – why not host a bake sale to give everyone something to look forward to over the weekend? From the start, the response was amazing. People lined up in their cars an hour in advance, some having driven from West Palm, Pembroke Pines – all over South Florida. The irony of course is that for those six Sundays, I never left my house!

HL: What success did you see throughout these events?

LBS: I have to say, it’s been amazing to watch the South Florida community come together during this difficult period. People have been so incredibly generous, and I don’t just mean that in a monetary sense. I’ve seen people – including every single chef and vendor who participated in the bake sales – give so much of their time, energy and resources over these past several weeks. It’s been nothing short of astonishing.

 HL: What has been your favorite part about it?

LBS: Seeing the comradery amongst everyone involved—that’s been really wonderful to witness. Many people who work in the hospitality industry have a can-do attitude, which I’ve always admired and tried to embody. Whether you work in a restaurant, hotel, or event production company, you’re often asked to roll up your sleeves and wear many different hats. This experience was a great example of that kind of versatility and work ethic.

HL: What positive aspects have you witnessed from Miami coming together during this time?

LBS: I’ve loved seeing local businesses invest in and care for their employees. In mid-March, I was on a call with around 20 local chefs and they all said the same thing to me—we need to help our employees. That really struck a chord with me. A week later, we launched our Fund, which has raised $1.6 million to date, providing continuity of compensation and other benefits to employees who have been furloughed, laid off or whose incomes have been significantly reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

HL: Moving beyond The Last Dance, how can people in Miami continue supporting the hospitality industry?

LBS: They can continue to make donations to the SOBEWFF® & FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Industry Relief Fund, which provides 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. I know everybody says this but it’s the truth—every dollar helps. We also use our website as a platform to promote other industry-related resources and initiatives. Beyond that, I think it’s really important for people to continue to support local restaurants and bars by dining in or taking out (depending on the circumstances and your own comfort level). The future of our industry depends on it.

Michael Capponi, Founder & President of Global Empowerment Mission

GEMPhoto Credit: GEM

HL: During every big global crisis in recent years, Global Empowerment Mission has been on the frontlines working to help save those affected. Tell us how GEM reacted to the COVID-19 outbreak.

MC: Every disaster or calamity that we are involved in requires a completely unique strategy. It’s like creating a new start-up each time. In this case, the greatest need determines the mission. We received thousands of emails from various hospital groups throughout the country. There was a shortage of available PPE and our frontline responders did not have the proper protective gear. Our initial goal was to service 250 facilities and by God’s will, we were able to send over 2.5 million items of PPE to 500 facilities in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. One million hazmat suits were sent to New York City alone. This required significant funds and due to our partnership with Bethenny Frankel/bstrong and the support of major news networks, we raised over $22 million just for this initiative. We turned our Miami HQ warehouse into a small Amazon-like operation, we filled 19, full-size semi-trucks and over 50 UPS trucks. This protective equipment was sent directly to hospitals, police stations, jails and nursery homes. This link details the list of our full stats.

https://www.globalempowermentmission.org/covid-19

HL: How was this different, as opposed to your work following natural disasters?

MC: The pressure was monumental. The requests we received from hospitals were dire and time was of the essence. Health care workers were overwhelmed and terrified to work without the proper gear.

HL: In Miami particularly, what did GEM do to help the community?

MC: We sent masks and gear to most South Florida medical facilities, over 25 different Police Departments including our corrections’ facilities in Dade and Broward counties.

HL: What can we do to help support GEM and its mission?

MC: The United Nations is planning for a crisis-filled 2020. Studies from top Universities predict this hurricane season to be extremely active. It’s important that GEM is always ahead of the game, that our warehouses are always filled with supplies before there are actual disasters. A strong organization needs to be proactive and always ready to move and act on the spot.  It must be well-funded and have all the tools that are needed to assist.

Our teams were on the ground in the Bahamas for Hurricane Dorian immediately thereafter. We strategized with former Navy Seals, Blue Tide Marine, we partnered with Fly Tropic and had a fleet of seaplanes at our disposal. Our teams were able to evacuate 845 people, send over 30 planes of supplies, we chartered 18 barges and shipped close to $20 million in supplies. These supplies were then distributed in organized fashions all throughout the Abacos on a weekly basis for over 6 months. Please see stats here: https://www.globalempowermentmission.org/hurricane-dorian

Then we shifted to sustainable development and we rebuilt three schools that are almost finished now. We have repaired 80 homes to date with another 400 to go. We have plastic buy-back programs that put money back into their economy and clean up their beaches.

These initiatives require significant funding. We partner with banks, governments, hedge funds, family offices and other foundations. Our model is very different than most organizations today. We run a very tight ship. In 2019, GEM reported $39 million in combined cash and non-cash donations. Our corporate overhead is approximately 3-percent. We need more great partners to join us in our work. I hope that many of our friends in this city reach out to me and get more involved. Our website is www.globalempowermentmission.org

HL: What do you foresee the next few months looking like for us, especially in the wake of the new climate? What does GEM plan to do to help?

MC: We need to be extremely vigilant and cautious. COVID-19 is not over. There are massive changes happening in our cities and our planet. A hurricane like Dorian in Miami would have been devastating. We cannot live in fear, but we also cannot be ignorant to the possibilities of more calamities and disasters. All we can do is be prepared and also prepare to help others.

Scott Harris, Founder & CEO of DeliverLean

Alonzo Mourning & Scott Harris
Alonzo Mourning & Scott Harris

Photo Credit: World Red Eye

HL: Tell us how DeliverLean has pivoted to serve the community during this tough time in Miami?

SH: When the pandemic started, we knew we had to step up for our South Florida community. We formed a strategic partnership with Alonzo Mourning and the Overtown Youth Center to provide meals to underserved inner city families in downtown Miami. Since we started the partnership with Alonzo, we have distributed over 20,000 meals and 80,000 non-perishable items and are continuing our partnership as normal life begins to resume as there is still a need. We also formed partnerships with two major South Florida sports teams—InterMiami CF and Miami Marlins to distribute non-perishables to those in need for several weeks. All in all, over the last three months, we have donated over 100,000 meals to families in need in South Florida.

HL: What has been the process of doing that, as well as the logistics that go into it?

SH: We own and operate a 60,000 square foot USDA/FDA certified facility in Hollywood, Florida where we create healthy, balanced meals on a daily basis. Then through The DeliverLeanFoundation, we launched a non-perishable food drive where anyone in the tri-county area can help the community from the comfort of their home. If you have non-perishable items you would like to donate, all you have to do is go to www.deliverleanfoundation.com, fill out the form with your name, address and items you have and we will dispatch our fleet of 400 drivers to pick up the items at your doorstep within 24 hours. These non-perishable items are then re-distributed to the community at our food distributions.

HL: Can you share some success stories since starting this initiative?

SH: Through our charitable division, The DeliverLean Foundation, we have been able to partner with incredible organizations and people in South Florida to help the community  As a result of our grassroots give back efforts, we decided to form a 501(c)(3) in order to continue supporting those in need during this pandemic and any other future crises where it is difficult for people to get food. We’ve also been able to grow our team immensely and offer jobs to those who may have lost theirs during the pandemic. I’ve seen our team strive to be the best they can each day to make sure our operation runs smoothly and we can deliver healthy, balanced meals to our customers and the community.

HL: Tell us about your partnerships with sports organizations. Who has been integral in helping you step up? 

SH: Alonzo Mourning and Overtown Youth Center, InterMiami CF and the Miami Marlins have all been incredible partners during this process. We have been able to help thousands of individuals and families during this unprecedented time and without them, by our side, we could not have made such an impact.

HL: How has DeliverLean’s demand increased since the stay at home order?

SH: It varies by business unit. Our wholesale division is down slightly because we service many hotels and airports which have been closed over the last few months. However, our direct to consumer division is up as we offer contact-free delivery and our senior meals division, DeliverLean Care, has increased substantially because of our senior meal delivery partnership with Miami-Dade County.

HL: Do you think this need for getting food at home will continue moving forward?

SH: Times have definitely changed with regard to how people feel about food and dining out. Having a healthy, balanced meal that comes from a company with the highest level of food safety has never been more important. We hope to continue keeping our customers and community healthy.

Senator Réné Garcia 

Réné GarciaPhoto Credit: Réné Garcia

HL: How did you help give back to the community during these unsettling past few months?

RG: We have been continually active in our community and have hit the ground running since the pandemic hit South Florida. I quickly realized the need for a free COVID-19 testing site in Hialeah, the second-largest city in Miami-Dade. Hialeah also has the largest brewery in Miami-Dade County, so I teamed up with Unbranded Brewery to distribute thousands of antibacterial bottles and masks. We are facilitating daily food distribution of over 600 meals with the Paradise Christian School. We are currently providing homebound meals with the non-profit organization, Share your Heart. We host continuous Farm Share and food distribution events. Together with Uber, we have provided over 500 free rides for the community and provided free UberEats codes to Hialeah firefighters. We were able to provide much-needed masks for Camillus Health Clinics. I continuously make regular appearances on TV, radio and social media to provide the most up-to-date information to our community.

HL: What are some success stories you can share?

RG: The free COVID-19 testing site in Hialeah was a big undertaking. There were a lot of logistics involved. For example, we had to secure a location and work closely with local labs to provide free testing and staff the site properly. The site provides testing to an average of 300 people per day for six days a week. Thousands of people have been tested in our community.

HL: What did you learn about our community during this time?

RG: The city of Hialeah is resilient and adaptable. We have seen parents become homeschool teachers and small businesses become innovative to stay afloat. Unfortunately, the unemployment rates in Hialeah have soared due to COVID-19. As President of the HOPE Mission Center, we provide services and support to everyone that calls our office, especially with their unemployment claims. We have assisted our community and local businesses with resources to get them through this tough time.

HL: What can we all do to help moving forward?

RG: As a Public Health Professional, we are concerned with the possible second wave of COVID-19. We need to continue following the CDC guidelines and practice social distancing.

Seth Browarnik, Founder of World Red Eye 

Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina, Seth Browarnik, & Mayor Francis X. Suarez
Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina, Seth Browarnik, & Mayor Francis X. Suarez

Photo Credit: World Red Eye

HL: From the beginning of the pandemic, World Red Eye stepped up to give back to the community. Tell us about some of the initiatives that you were part of?

SB: On March 23rd, 2020, I launched #WRECares when COVID-19 struck and I pivoted my website to become an information hub for the Miami community to share updates and resources on how we can rise above COVID-19 and help restore the prestige of this great city. World Red Eye transitioned its website WorldRedEye.com to offer a wealth of information on resources for the community, charitable outreach, and locals doing good.

On the day of the launch, Instagram messages, calls and emails came flooding in. It became apparent that people wanted to help and get involved. People wanted to donate or make face masks, but didn’t know how to distribute them. I decided to be the distributor and to collect the masks and donate them to people in Miami who needed them most.

I also tapped into my vast network and through #WRECares assembled a team of seamstresses and designers who have also transitioned their businesses from creating clothing and swimsuits to help provide much-needed supplies to the frontline heroes during the COVID-19 crisis by making masks. The team at #WRECares is distributing these masks to those on the front lines of the pandemic, including but not limited to The University of Miami Health System, Cleveland Clinic Florida, The City of Miami Police Department,  Miami Dade Police and Fire Departments, Jackson Health System and other first responders in need.

HL: What were some of the greatest success stories from this time?

SB: One that I’m most proud of is that #WRECares partnered with the Miami Marlins who donated nearly 1,000 pieces of clothing, including actual game day home and road jerseys, uniform pants and 100-percent cotton T-shirts to be utilized as masks for the front line heroes.

#WRECares created the 1 Mask 1 World initiative to give to people in need masks. During the first couple of months of the pandemic, first responders and hospitals were the priority (they still are). #WRECares by World Red Eye has partnered with Miami-based non-profit, the Little Lighthouse Foundation (“LLF”) in support of its 1 Mask 1 World initiative due to their strong partnerships including, but not limited to, homeless shelters, hospitals and youth centers. Contributions to the 1 Mask 1 World initiative are used to create masks for those in need. These funds help support #WRECares’ network of local seamstresses who have tirelessly donated their time to sew masks for those in need and cover the costs of materials used to make masks. These masks are then donated to health heroes and children and families from LLF’s partner facilities that serve the underserved throughout the community. For every $3 donated to the 1 Mask 1 World initiative, one mask is created and provided to a local Miamian individual in need. The contribution helps support #WRECares network of seamstresses and their materials used to make masks.

Mei Yu, Owner of Tropical Chinese

Mei Yu & Tropical Chinese StaffPhoto Credit: World Red Eye

HL: Since the beginning of this unsettling time, you and Tropical Chinese stepped up as one of the leaders in the industry to give back to frontline workers. How did you decide on this initiative and what logistics did you have to work out to make it happen?

MY: It was organic. My mother passed away in October of 2019, I spent two and a half years with her in and out of the hospital. During her treatments, we would be there for months and I became very attached to her doctors, nurses, and environmental staff. I saw firsthand what they do for all their patients every day. My mother and I are fortunate we have Tropical Chinese and are able to get freshly cooked meals by our amazing staff every day; meanwhile, the nurses themselves at times don’t even have time to take a break for lunch while doing a 12-hour shift. One night my mother had too much fluid in her lungs, I overslept and didn’t hear my phone, it was the nurses that saved my mother’s life and I got an additional six months with her. During the two and a half years, I would bring the staff trays of food from Tropical Chinese every week, and each time I see the joy in their face when I bring them food. Fast forward, at the onset of COVID-19, the day before the non-essential businesses shut down, my mom’s nurses came for dinner. I was in shock to see them dining in my restaurant at 9 p.m., so I asked them why they were here so late, they told me that they haven’t had a decent meal in a week because they were under strict lockdown. They were at work since 7 a.m. and didn’t leave till almost 9 p.m. With COVID, once they are at work, they are not allowed to leave the premise, and with the cafeteria closed with only cold sandwiches, they just wanted a hot meal. That ached me so much, so the very next day I brought the entire staff food from Tropical Chinese, and then a couple of days later again. I posted what I was doing on my Facebook and my dear friend Erin Michelle Newberg saw it and she picked up the phone and told me, “you can’t be doing this on your own and absorb all the costs.” Knowing I had no business at the restaurant due to the non-essential closure, Erin suggested we start a GoFundMe to get our friends involved. I really didn’t think anyone would support me, but my amazing friends came through and within 24 hours I almost reached our goal of $8,000. I was intently watching the news and heard the NY hospital workers didn’t eat the entire day, overworked and overwhelmed, so that’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do—to bring a little joy and thanks to “our frontline healthcare workers” that are saving someone’s life. On March 28 we started the GoFundMe, and with every meal purchased by someone, I matched a meal. On March 31, we started delivering our bento boxes to two shifts starting with Baptist, then Jackson, and then the University of Miami. To date, we have delivered almost 9,000 meals to six hospitals, the Miami Police Department and His Children’s Home.

HL: What has been the response since launching this mission? 

MY: I couldn’t feel more blessed and more loved. My friends, family, Tropical Chinese customers, strangers from all over the world have contributed to my mission.

HL: What have you learned as a hospitality industry leader during this challenging time? 

MY: I don’t think of myself as a leader, so many other people are doing the same. I am just giving back to those people to give to someone we know and love every day. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for favors and it’s okay to feel vulnerable.

HL: What are your goals for the rest of 2020—both for your restaurant and the Miami hospitality industry as a whole?

MY: My goal is to keep everyone safe. Not just my staff but also the doctors, nurses and the environmental staff. My extended goal is to continue my mission to serve my community. I would like to start a non-profit to bring food to more hospital care workers and purchase meals from small mom and pop owned restaurants to get them involved in doing good deeds for our heroes.

Andres Asion, Broker Miami Real Estate Group & Philanthropist  

Andres AsionPhoto Credit: WorldRedEye.com

HL: From the beginning of this unsettling time, you were one of the leaders in the Miami community who stood up and gave back. What prompted this?

AA: I honestly feel that when times are at their hardest, it is when people truly need to step up. And one moment in time sets these efforts in motion that have helped many. Riding my bike down Collins Avenue and seeing two miles of cars waiting in line since 4 a.m. to get fruits and vegetables in front of the W Hotel made a big impact on me. I posted a video on my Instagram, which prompted a person from California to send me $500. His only condition was to put the money to good use blessing people who needed it in these very difficult times we are all living. And that was the catalyst for blessing many families’ lives.

HL: How did you create the infrastructure to be able to deliver meals and give back to the community so efficiently in such a short amount of time?

AA: This is an example of how one does not need a big infrastructure. Within hours of the video posting, the man from California Venmoed me the $500. I called a family member of the Presidente Supermarket who completely supported the idea. So much so, that they agreed to match any funds gathered to help buy food for people in need. It didn’t take much time to start our mission and only one hour later, I was at the supermarket surprising customers in the Allapattah neighborhood as they were getting ready to pay for the groceries at checkout. I loved the look of gratitude on their faces when I would jump in and pay for everything they were buying. Other friends saw what I was doing and the donations started pouring in. They too, wanted me to be able to help even more families at check-out.

HL: What success stories can you share?

AA: The success, I would say is due to friends, family and strangers who have donated to help over 1,000 families that are still going strong. Their ability to put other families first has been an inspiration to us all. We have been able to help with food, money and even gas. Gas trucks have been taken to inner-city neighborhoods to help with everyday costs of living by providing free fuel.

HL: What have you learned about yourself during this time?

AA: That I never know what life is going to throw at me but I can always find a way to make magic happen, with the help of others. I have learned that we can always do more for people, that there are people everywhere who always want to help society prosper. I have learned that I can do more for my community and for other communities, as well, and I can pay it forward on a daily basis.

HL: What have you learned about the community?

AA: I continue to see that our community is not only on a local level, but it’s worldwide. It shows that they are willing to step up and help others when times are hard, even when it is hard for them, as well. Our community was hit by the perfect storm with the Coronavirus, a frozen economy, and not to mention, the tension around the Black Lives Matter movement. Stress levels are at an all-time high. But I feel when you stop to help others in need, even if it is stopping traffic to help an elderly person cross the street. You will find the faith that this too, shall pass, and all that really matters is having love in your heart to be able to continue your life mission.

HL: What can we do to help you give back?

AA: The most important thing is to be informed so you can guide others to resources the city, county and organizations like mine to help others so that when you hear of a need you can help people simply by pointing them in the right direction. An example would be how the elderly (over 60) in need can just dial 311 and the county will deliver free food to them every day, or where to go for free antivirus and COVID-19 tests. Also, one can make a donation to the Andres Asion Foundation so we can continue to help families with needs that are not being addressed with the current programs offered.  You can also refer people to me that need help, and my team and I will do the best we can—it’s our life.

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