In December 2021, the EWE Spirit Foundation brought its total grantmaking to date to $115,000 by awarding $50,000 in grants to five nonprofit organizations that are significantly improving people’s lives, including three new grant recipients, one of which is the Sister Season Fund.
On June 11, 2021, Jeremy suddenly couldn’t breathe. He was working as a bartender at a Key West, Florida, establishment called Bobby’s Monkey Bar. His coworkers immediately called his fiancé and rushed him to the emergency room. The local hospital transferred him to a bigger hospital in Miami, where he was diagnosed with stage 3 laryngeal cancer. He was only 42 at the time.
Jeremy stayed in the Miami hospital for a week, undergoing a tracheotomy that left him able to communicate only with a raspy whisper. Back home in Key West, he endured six months of chemotherapy and 35 radiation treatments. His doctors didn’t start talking about removing the tracheotomy until the following January.
Meanwhile, the medical bills and related expenses (such as taking Ubers to his radiation appointments when his fiancé was driving their only car to work) were adding significantly to the stress of his condition. His fiancé, who worked as a nanny, took on more odd jobs but couldn’t cover their entire rent and utilities payments on her own.
“We worried a lot about money,” remembers Jeremy, who was heavily medicated for months, having trouble sleeping, and often too ill to even walk the dog. “It was up and down. I had good days and bad,” he adds. “There really weren’t any jobs I could do during that time.”
Jeremy applied for disability, but the process was extremely slow, taking six months to produce the first check. Unable to cover his share of rent and utilities in the meantime, he worried that he would have to move to Massachusetts to live with his parents. This was an unbearable choice for Jeremy, who had lived in Key West for 15 years and grown deep roots in the community. After his diagnosis, friends had brought him meals, and his coworkers had picked up extra shifts at the bar to hold his position open for him. An anonymous stranger even dropped off bags of dog and cat food outside their door for their pets, without even leaving a note. This community was helping him through hard times, and he didn’t want to leave it.
That’s when a friend told him about Sister Season Fund, a Key West–based charity dedicated to providing short-term financial support for people in the hospitality industry who are temporarily out of work due to illness, accidents, etc. The nonprofit paid for half the couple’s rent and one of their utilities, tiding them over until the disability checks finally kicked in.
“Sister Season saved me,” says Jeremy. “I don’t know what I would have done without it.”
In a normal year, Sister Season Fund helps between 50 and 75 hospitality workers—ranging from bar and restaurant employees to taxi drivers, musicians, and boat operators—integral to Key West’s No. 1 industry: tourism. In 2020, during the height of the COVID pandemic, that number soared to 400. Sister Season scrambled to raise more funds to cover every applicant’s needs.
Because Geoff felt so at home and happy in Key West, supporting the Sister Season Fund was a no-brainer for the EWE Spirit Foundation. We know that he would be proud to be helping the community that brought him so much joy over the years. And he’d be the first to raise a glass to Jeremy when he returns to work at Bobby’s Monkey Bar.