Blog Action Day: Joy, 100,000 Donated Meals, and Sozo Friends Wine

October 15, 2012

Today is Blog Action Day. Founded in 2007, this yearly online event "...brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day." This year's theme is "The Power of We". For Blog Action Day I chose to interview Martin Barrett, Co-Owner of Sozo Friends. [Sozo is Greek for "to save" or "to keep safe."] Martin has used his experience as a winery owner and a volunteer to create a lineup of high quality wines, and donating funds to provide meals for each bottle sold. The number of meals provided per bottle sold is listed on the front of the label. We spoke about the impact of his community work, how to build an organization that can have a consistent, long-term impact, and getting people involved personally and not just financially. Martin also had some inspiring words for turning "I" into "We." Finally, I discovered that Martin is quite the cook. He provided me with some of his favorite food pairings with his wines, with many of the dishes coming from notable chefs and restaurants in Seattle. This month Sozo is celebrating the donation of over 100,000 meals since the company was founded.

Tell me about your background in volunteering and community work. How was it influential in founding Sozo Friends?

My volunteer work revolved mostly around Young Life [a faith-based youth outreach program]. My first real encounter with the plight of many urban kids came as a sophomore in college. I was taking one of my Young Life kids to his home in High Point [a low income project in West Seattle] after an event. He told me I might not want to come into the project but I said no problem. He directed me to his house. It was not much. There were several men standing out front, the kid said they were dealers or came by to "see" his mom. I noticed the kid always ate huge amounts of food whenever we were together, I realized at that point they this was due to there being no food in his house. It was at that point that I knew that just having fun events where we talked about Jesus was not enough. I had to get involved in new and different ways in the life of poor urban kids. That led to 14 years of volunteering, sometimes 50 hours per week, to help friends in the city who are struggling. Without friendships with the poor, Sozo would not be; there would be no point.

With all the avenues available to fight hunger, why did you choose to start a wine brand to do so? What makes your approach different?

We wanted to build something sustainable, which required:

Provide funding for decades. That meant a business that generates profit and therefore can grow.  [A business] that built community around those that serve the poor and needy, something bigger than ourselves so it could be a movement. [Something] that was an extension of who we are and what we enjoy: wine, food, and the conversation that happens because of them. After stepping away from leading a winery we owned in Oregon in 2008, I had been looking for something that would do all the above, and quite frankly was struggling to see it. It was not until Monte shared [stories] about the kids in Liberia and the cost to feed them, 2+ years later that it all came together in my mind. [Sozo Co-Founder Monte Regier worked with Mercy Ships, which provide health care to the poor in ports worldwide.]
Sozo brings complete alignment to all the things we are passionate about: caring for widows and orphans, community, and the friendship that happens around a table with great food and wine. Our approach is different in that the only reason we exist is to serve the poor. EVERY bottle, 24/7, comes with a donation. The first check Sozo writes each month is the proceeds portion; it is also the most satisfying. Giving and building community is not part of what we do, it is all we do.
What makes us different? Even though we exist to serve the poor we lead with the quality of our product. No one should drink bad wine to do a good thing. Indeed, great deeds should have great wine. When we partner with other organizations like the Hotel 1000 or the Keeler Hospitality Group we give them our best wines to co-brand with. We want them to prosper as they serve the poor. Few if any other wineries would put their best wine under a shared label, but that is who we are. We want everyone to win so the poor are served.
How does Sozo Friends generate interest and action when it comes the issue of hunger beyond the monetary donation from each bottle sold?
Wine is wonderful community and social networking tool, perhaps older than any other tool after fire. We brought folks out on the Union Gospel Mission's night rides, taking food and clothes out to those who are not ready to come into the shelter. Now dozens of folks have become involved in serving those needs from those original "Sozo Friends." We have helped restaurants and their staff get involved in food banks and shelters. Some have increased their food donations, cooking meals, staffing.
What advice would you give people struggling to build a community to tackle issues that are important to them?
  • Be sure to do it out of joy, not anger.
  • It is ok to be small
  • Be glad that you GET to serve and delight on those you are able to help, not those you are not.
  • Don't try to be everything.
  • Getting the credit is way overrated.
  • Serve those you are laboring with.

Click for some fantastic food and Sozo wine pairings courtesy of Martin!

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