Breweries do more than make beer. They are neighborhood hubs where people come together to share good times and bad, particularly in small communities, much like cultural and religious centers. Being part of a community means stepping up when your community is in need, and this is what Bandera Brewery did in the wake of the horrific mass shooting in nearby Uvalde, Texas on May 24th, 2022, when 19 children and 2 adult teachers were sickeningly gunned down at Robb Elementary School.
As the nation reeled in anguish, Johnny Oliver, Co-Owner and Head Brewer of Bandera Brewery, felt compelled to act. “As soon as the news about the tragedy in Uvalde came in, we knew we had to do something to help those affected,” he says, “We’re a community-focused brewery – helping our neighbors is in our DNA.” Bandera is just over an hour away from Uvalde, a short distance in Texas, and neighbors, friends, and brewery regulars were among those directly affected by the tragedy. Oliver quickly set wheels in motion to do the one thing that he, as a brewery owner, could do to help – raise money for the families of the victims.
Putting any kind of large outdoor event together at short notice is no easy feat for a Texas brewery, as it requires the co-operation of multiple organizations, including law enforcement, the fire department, and a license from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), a process that would usually take a minimum of ten days. Oliver was successful in impressing upon the TABC the need to expedite the process, and swiftly garnered support from the local sheriff’s office, the volunteer fire department (VFD) and the Bandera Chamber of Commerce for his planned two-day fundraiser. With the requisite permissions, Oliver began to reach out to local breweries and businesses in person and online, and word traveled fast. “Before we knew it, we had 43 breweries and 55 different organizations and businesses who contributed,” says Oliver, “So many people were contacting us asking how they could help.”
In less than a week, Oliver had pulled the entire event together, with breweries and businesses from across the state contributing. One of first breweries Oliver reached out to was Cibolo Creek Brewing in nearby Boerne, TX. Head brewer, Ty Wolosin, was quick to get on board. “I told him we would help however we could and gave him a few other neighbor brewery connections to get in touch with,” he says, “I think this is a great example of the brewery community in Texas – No questions asked, just how can we help. Not just for us, but for all the breweries that were involved”.
Martin House Brewing’s San Antonio market lead, Marcos Montes, is from Uvalde and immediately signed up to sponsor the event, bringing a range of canned sours and stouts. “I personally know several of the families of the victims and some victims themselves and still have family there,” he says. “Those victims were my neighbors, classmates, children of my classmates”. Montes is proud of the way the Texas beer community has rallied. “It was amazing to see how quickly everything came together,” he says.
Community Cultures Yeast Lab in San Antonio also felt it was essential to get involved. “For us, community comes first, hence the name. That extends to all of our community, not just the craft beer industry,” says co-owner Mara Young. “If we can ever assist or help, in any way, we try to show up. It’s devastating, the pain and horror these families have, and are still, going through. They are our neighbors, it’s absolutely crucial that we support them in any way we can”.
The importance of showing up and being a proactive part of the local community is echoed by San Antonio’s Kuenstler Brewing’s owner and head brewer, Vera Deckard, who sponsored and poured three draft beers at the event. “Historically breweries are known for helping the very community that supports them when it’s needed,” she says. “When tragedies like this happen, we don’t always know how to help or what is needed. This gave us the opportunity to help the best way we know how”.
Austin’s Independence Brewing made the four-hour round-trip to sponsor the event with six of their canned beers over both days. “We’re honored and proud to be a member of such a positive and active beer community. Our hope is that by publicly acknowledging our community’s pain and adding our voice to the growing movement to demand that our government representatives find a way to work together to avoid these tragedies, that we can be a force for good,” says Nick Hiller, marketing director at Independence, “Our hearts go out to these families and the entire community of Uvalde”.
Beer is for Everyone sponsored the event from Nevada by designing, outsourcing, and producing fundraising t-shirts which were sold at the event and online. Founder and editor, Lindsay Malu Kido, also emphasizes the strength of the compassion and engagement brought to the event. “While we all wish that this kind of event never, ever had to happen, I see hope in the way our communities are able to unite and fight for each other. There were so many people who showed up for the event, and I cannot be prouder of the way we responded to such a tragedy”.
The turnout was huge. With over 5,000 attendees on the first day and over 2,500 on the second, Oliver and his team were able to raise $43,440.78 between beer tickets, raffle tickets, t shirt sales, and donations. The event was staffed entirely by volunteers with all five bands and musicians also performing for free. From the ice truck to the food for volunteers, to the outdoor chairs and tables, the local community donated generously to enable Oliver to raise as much money as possible.
While there is no dispute that fundraising cannot undo the dreadful wrong that has taken place, the very fact of doing something, and doing it together helped to alleviate the sense of helplessness many of us have felt. “It was healing, because it gave people a moment to feel like they were able to do something, maybe not to ease the pain, but to make things a little easier financially. Finances are the last thing families should worry about with this type of tragedy,” says Vera Deckard. Lindsay Malu Kido agrees. “While there is nothing that will bring back the 21 lives that were taken too soon, we hope that some financial burdens are relieved for the victims and their families. We hope that the funds will allow people to focus on the grieving process”.
How to respond, what to do in the face of such a heartbreaking situation is a difficult and challenging question, but the need to do something, to do what you can, was a driving force for everyone involved with this event. The role of breweries as community spaces and the unarguable way that beer brings people together offers us the opportunity to utilize those characteristics for good and to further strengthen our ties to the community and to one another. Like all communities, the beer community has its differences – in values and politics as well as styles and tastes, but an event like this clearly demonstrates our scope to unite behind common goals and a community spirit. Johnny Oliver goes out of his way to emphasize that the event would not have been possible without such broad and far-reaching collaboration. “We had people from all over Texas – Dallas, Lubbock, Laredo, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Hondo, Uvalde, and more. And not just breweries, but people who drove out to help support our neighbors,” says Oliver. “It was amazing, and we are grateful to each and every one of them.”
You can donate to the Robb Elementary School Memorial Fund via Bandera Brewery or directly here, and purchase BIFE Uvalde Strong t-shirts here.