The United Sommeliers Foundation, a new nonprofit dedicated to providing assistance to out-of-work wine professionals, today announces their official launch. The organization plans to begin distributing financial assistance immediately to applicants.
The foundation was designed as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crash causing widespread layoffs, especially for workers in the restaurant and hospitality industries. “I received a phone call from a friend who had been laid off for over a week, and as a single dad supporting two young boys, he was genuinely worried about having money for groceries and to pay rent, and had nowhere to turn,” says United Sommeliers Foundation Co-Founder and Treasurer Chris Blanchard. “Most people might not understand that despite the connotation of luxury, sommeliers are not salaried and instead work hourly, for tips.”
The reality of the situation is dire for most restaurant industry workers, but often can present extra challenges for sommeliers. Sommeliers are typically the first to be laid off in a restaurant crisis, and the last to be hired back, and there is no existing industry support group for sommeliers.
In designing the United Sommeliers Foundation, Blanchard, along with fellow sommelier and United Sommeliers Foundation President and Co-Founder, Cristie Norman, devised an immediate action plan with the launch of a public GoFundMe and the creation of an application for the distribution of support funds. Applications are reviewed by the executive board and disbursements are approved and prioritized based on severity of need. The board is composed of three Master Sommeliers, a Master of Wine, and other industry experts with over 100+ years of collective experience in the wine industry. To date, over 100 applications have been received with an initial benchmark of $7,000 in fundraising already surpassed.
“Many sommeliers live paycheck to paycheck and do not have health insurance or backup resources to help support themselves and their families,” says Norman. “We as a community are establishing this charitable organization with the intent of helping as many sommeliers as possible through the current crisis and also to establish a permanent resource and infrastructure for those impacted by future events which might cause sommeliers to lose employment through no fault of their own.” The foundation is currently working to develop a wine auction to directly benefit those affected by the crisis and is taking donations from both private and corporate benefactors during their initial launch.
To apply for aid, donate, or learn more, please visit www.unitedsommeliersfoundation.org