The first few days of shut down, we were hungry for information on how to help those in the hospitality industry struggling from the effects of Covid-19, but at a loss on where to find it. Seemingly overnight, Michael Toscano, a NY-based brand ambassador for Woodford Reserve, shifted from planning events to finding ways to support the community.
Toscano saw that finding information on useful resources was hard to come by. He began compiling and sharing an online spreadsheet. “I found myself online everyday combing through the never ending posts for help from members of [the restaurant] industry. I knew I had to start identifying ways I could offer help. The number one thing was to help without an expectation of ‘how this could benefit our brand.’ People needed help, I was in a position to help, and that’s all that mattered.”
His list included all the local GoFundMe drives broken down by city and state with links to the sources. Within New York itself, Toscano included a list of all the places that were slowly opening and which were offering to-go services. Before shutdown, Toscano wasn’t particularly involved with community organizing outside of the usual scope of events and brand work but “this experience has absolutely shifted my focus as a person. Our community is everything.”
Wanting to do even more, Toscano started organizing food deliveries for out-of-work industry workers in the Metro New York area, sharing a Google doc as an order form on social media channels and on the Facebook pages for the Woodford Reserve Metro NY, USBGNY, Thirsty and Dani & Jackie’s Happy Hour, to make sure anyone who needed a meal got one. He also sent out care packages complete with handwritten notes, a small gesture but one that I can personally say really helped my outlook on the day. After his initial care packages went out, he emailed the recipients and asked them to “pay it forward” and nominate another industry friend in need of a pick-me-up.
“Brown Forman/Woodford Reserve was fully on board in supporting both of these programs as we moved forward. I had the budget to spend and they backed our team up 100 percent to use those funds as we saw fit to help those in need. It was never a question of what we were getting back in return or what position the people we helped held within their bars; if they needed help, we were going to help them.”
For most of us, the places we usually blow off steam and work out our stresses don’t usually exist within the confines of our homes. While we are all watching our industry find ways to open and function, many of us are also trying to find ways to process and work through the barrage of emotions triggered by the pandemic. Toscano also organized virtual “fitness happy hours” to “serve as an outlet for people who just need to get the stress and anxiety that we’re all facing out of their systems in a healthy and safe way.”
The 45-minute boxing sessions are hosted by Chelsea Piers (where Toscano is a member) and their certified personal trainers. “This industry is a vital part of the success of our family of brands and as a company we knew we had to identify ways in which we could help and help now. With any company the size of Brown Forman, it takes a minute to “pivot”, but once we had established the new direction, it was all systems go.”
“Pivot”—it’s a word heard a lot these days. Workers in the hospitality industry are some of the first around to jump up with a roll of duct tape and a smile in order to to fix something on the fly. Watching larger brands, such as Brown Forman, pivot to do the same in creative and caring ways is a reminder that we are all in this together.
If you are in the industry, you can find these resources pending membership to the following pages:
To see the list of donation opportunities, click here!