Matt Light and Keel Vodka spark new campaign raising hope and funds for those in hospitality community economically injured by Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic across the globe has caused tragedy, turmoil, panic and an era of unsettling times. With an idea pitched to have an impact on the community and hospitality industry during the troubling time, the “Lift Your Spirits” campaign does just that.

The “Lift Your Spirits” campaign started in mid-March 2020, partners with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), which represents and advocates for more than 500,000 hospitality businesses and millions of employees throughout the country.  The goal is to raise money in support of the millions of restaurant owners, employees and many others in the hospitality business. The campaign was started by KEEL vodka brand’s co-founder Bill Dessel. It was then launched and promoted by former New England Patriots football player Matt Light, KEEL’s brand manager Max Moss, and shortly gained the support from restaurant owner Steve DiFillippo of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse. The two launched the campaign to lift the spirits of those affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Image courtesy of Keel Vodka

With over one-million restaurants in the entire United States, the country is home to more than 15-million employees. Impacted the most by the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry was early estimated to be the largest sector impacted by the epidemic. According to the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation, over 7.4 million restaurant workers have, or are expected to lose their jobs. With no way of making a living, the NRAEF set up the Restuarant Employee Relief Fund (RERF) to provide immediate financial assistance to workers facing hardship as a result of the crisis. The fund is projected to set up grants starting in early April 2020 to help supplement the loss of income for many workers.

The movement challenges individuals to post a video of themselves, mixing their favorite drink, and saying a toast to those affected in the restaurant, foodservice and hospitality industry. After individuals have filmed their video, the last step is to post it on social media using the hashtag #LiftYourSpirits, and challenge friends to do the same. A gift to the NRAEF is encouraged at, which turns a “tip” into a donation for restaurant, foodservice and hospitality workers impacted.

For many, restaurants and bars, as well as the workers behind those establishments are what make cities a better place to live. As most restaurants across the country cut hours, suspend business, and close for good, many workers are faced with long-term loss of income. The “Lift Your Spirits” challenge aims to bring a little light to the situation. What better way than a few drinks?

Matt Light, an Ohio native and three-time Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots looks at this opportunity as something positive for the entire community. Spending four years as a member of the Purdue University football team in college, and eleven years as a member of the Patriots in the National Football League, Light knows a thing or two about community. “The #LiftYourSpirits campaign has given me something positive to focus on. Its been a great way for me to explain to my kids how people come together during difficult times to help others.”

The former Patriots offensive tackle is no stranger to helping his community. In 2001, Matt and his wife, Susie, established The Light Foundation – a non-profit organization that exists to give at-risk kids a better chance at leading healthy lives by using the great outdoors to learn and grow. “The main mission is to provide them with opportunities to reach their highest potential and become mentors to their peers.”

Photo courtesy of Matt Light

Light’s foundation gives kids the opportunity that they wouldn’t otherwise have to get outside and take on a challenge, much like the “Lift Your Spirits” challenge. Giving back has always been a pillar in Light’s philosophy. “Our goal is to be a beacon for charitable organizations, athletes and young people. Inspiring kids to work hard, put their best foot forward, and strive to become champions in the game of life.” With his foundation to support young kids, Light is now venturing out to help the hospitality world.

Having his own roots in the hospitality industry, the former gridiron star is well aware of what it takes to get to the top. A partner of the KEEL brand, Light has experience in hospitality and wants to show his support. “We are extremely thankful for everyone in the hospitality industry who have served us over the years and it’s now our time to help them.”

KEEL, the nation’s first light vodka started as an idea in 2011, created at Billy’s restaurant in Barrington, Rhode Island. With the mission to “create spirits of unparalleled smoothness and drinkability so you can stay balanced and be present to enjoy the now and the later,” Bill Dessel and Tom McGowan wanted to bring the idea to fruition. After pitching the idea to Matt, the KEEL brand was born. “The more I heard about the idea the more I realized how smart the idea of drinking lighter was. Better tasting, more drinkable and didn’t ruin my next day,” said Light.

Image courtesy of Keel Vodka

With the philosophy of “owning your experience by knowing what you’re drinking,” the KEEL brand was created with an individual’s spirit in mind. The first bottle of KEEL vodka was produced in January of 2013. In February 2014, KEEL signed its first distribution partner and the first shipment of the vodka was received in April of that year. After making their vodka available in their first restaurant in May 2014, KEEL expanded out west to Colorado three years later. After partnering with Gilette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots in 2017 to offer KEEL light lemonades on tap throughout the stadium, the goal of expanding throughout the world showed much progress. KEEL has quadrupled its footprint since 2016 and is now available in over eleven different states across the country.

Part owner of the KEEL brand, Matt Light has inspired so many to join the challenge and “pour with a purpose.” Celebrities, journalists, athletes, sports teams, organizations and so many more have contributed to the initiative. Professional golfer Brad Faxon, sportscaster Joe Buck, Pawtucket Red Sox co-owner and president Jim Skeffington Jr., former Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, Patriots center David Andrews, and journalists at Boston 25 News are just a few of those who have made their contributions to the fundraiser.

Collecting over fourteen thousand dollars in just the first ten days of launch, the “Lift Your Spirits” campaign got off to a fast start. The goal of 100,000 to help support restaurants and its employees around the world doesn’t stop when it’s reached and it doesn’t stop when the COVID-19 crisis is over with or limited. The “Lift Your Spirits” campaign is here to stay.

Image courtesy of Keel Vodka

Created to help those restaurants and their employees in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Lift Your Spirits” donation pool can be set up to help those in need during another future crisis. Aiming to evolve into a permanent project to raise money for those in need for years to come, the campaign has its eyes on the future impact of many individuals.

Partnered with the NRAEF, the organization and its programs work to “attract, empower and advance today’s and tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice workforce.” The hopes of both the NRAEF and the “Lift Your Spirits” campaign is to make the support and recognition of the hospitality and foodservice industry permanent, forever.

Proceeds from each donation will support the restaurant worker relief efforts of those at the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. “Lift Your Spirits” has already impacted several lives and continues to strive to impact more in the future.  The lifting spirits mantra will continue to thrive with participation and donations. The future of the hospitality industry is dependent upon lifting each other’s spirits.

Photo courtesy of Keel Vodka