Tension. Fear. Shame. Neglect. Emotions that no four-year-old child should have to face, but Sandy experienced them all on a daily basis.
By the time Sandy turned four, she was the product of a broken home. Her mother had left her father and started a tumultuous relationship with an alcoholic who belted her regularly.
This business was and continues to be a leap of faith.
“When my older brother first saw the bruises on my mum’s face, he was horrified. He demanded to know who had hit her. My mum had become an alcoholic herself by this point. She told him to pack his bags and get out,” Sandy recalls.
It wasn’t long before her mother had also kicked Sandy’s other brother and sister out of the house. The baby of the family, Sandy was forced to stay with her mother and the man who was now her stepfather. She had no other choice.
“I had no hope of a secure upbringing in that household,” Sandy says. “I had to sit there each day and watch my mother being physically, verbally and emotionally abused.”
Her sister Valerie, 11 years her senior, desperately wanted to help Sandy but didn’t know how. Around this time, their brother Mervyn was invited to an Adventist church. Valerie went with him.
The church didn’t impress Mervyn, but Valerie instinctively knew it was the solution she had been seeking. She began praying earnestly about Sandy’s situation, certain that the loving God she was learning about would rescue her little sister.
“Mum was drunk when Valerie came over and asked if she could have me,” Sandy recalls. “I still remember Valerie picking me up after school the next day. I didn’t feel sad about never seeing my mother again. Instead I felt joy . . . and relief.”
Sandy began attending Brentwood Adventist church with Valerie. Having never known what it was like to grow up in a nurturing family environment, she immediately felt welcomed by the loving people she met there.
“We were invited to people’s homes for lunch and tea every Sabbath. I still remember being served my first vegetarian meal—it was boiled potatoes and Nutmeat!” Sandy laughs.
Several years later, Sandy married, looking forward to a fresh start and the opportunity to raise her own family. She and her husband had four children. She was determined that her children would never know the trauma she had experienced.
There is noticeable pain in her eyes as she tells me the marriage didn’t work out. Disillusioned and disconsolate, Sandy stopped attending church, vowing she would never return.
“My cousin used to be a Jehovah’s Witness and left the denomination around the same time that I left the Adventist Church,” reflects Sandy. “We were sitting around my brother’s house one morning, laughing about how we had seen past the facade of religion and how the truth had indeed set us free. But inside I felt empty.”
Admitting her emptiness ultimately brought Sandy back to God. She found herself drawn to a book her sister had given her some years before—What’s so Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey.
Reading the book renewed a hunger for God she had long tried to quash. She began reading other Christian books and found herself re-reading chapters simply because she didn’t want the books to end.
Sandy started working as a receptionist at Sanitarium New Zealand—an Adventist institution. Knowing she was a former Adventist, her colleagues consistently invited her to church each Sabbath. Despite her vow to never set foot in church again, she eventually relented.
“It wasn’t anything like my first church experience where everyone was warm and welcoming,” she says. “I was incredibly lonely but I was still determined to get back into church.”
After three weeks of spiritual inactivity, Sandy had had enough. She went directly to the pastor and told him, “These are my spiritual gifts. Use them.” She soon became involved in the church’s outreach program, telling children’s stories and running the Tiny Tots Sabbath School.
“Running that Sabbath School class was the only thing that kept me going to church,” she acknowledges. “Those kids needed me and I needed them.”
Yet Sandy still felt as though God was calling her to do something else with her life.
One day, she got on her knees and prayed out loud, “God, I will do whatever you tell me to.” She then felt deeply impressed to move to Australia.
Move to Australia?
Sandy was a single mum. She had no job prospects or house overseas, and had barely enough money to feed her family each day. But she believed if God wanted her to move to Australia, He would make a way. And sure enough, the doors began to open.
“I applied for a house in Morisset (NSW). I had to pay six months bond because I was a single mother but praise God, I’m still living in that house today,” Sandy says.
“Three weeks after I moved to Australia, I received a call from Sanitarium’s head office, telling me they had a job for me if I wanted it. I hadn’t actually applied for a job here, so the offer was a surprise.”
The other surprise was that the job was in IT.
“I knew nothing whatsoever about technology!” laughs Sandy. “God really wanted me in Australia!”
The miracles kept on coming. Sandy met her now-husband Trevor online via Adventist Match and they dated for two years before getting engaged. They married in January 2011 in a beautiful outdoor wedding.
“He treats me like a queen,” Sandy says with a smile. “I’m so happy to be married to him.”
They had been married for 15 months when Trevor made an unexpected proposition: “I want us to start our own business.”
“Only if it is something we are passionate about,” Sandy countered. Thinking the discussion was over, she promptly forgot all about it. But it wasn’t the end of the conversation.
At that stage, Trevor was spending roughly four hours commuting to and from work. He was feeling tired, unfulfilled and more than ready to take on a new challenge.
One evening he came home and wrote one word on a piece of paper: “Alcofree”.
Trevor had put his hours on the train to good use and come up with the idea of a business that sourced alcohol-free drinks. It wasn’t long before he had their daughter-in-law Lulu Lewis designing the company logo and brand colours.
Sandy did her best to support Trevor, but she didn’t feel particularly enthusiastic about the business until a conversation with a stranger changed her outlook. On her way to London, Sandy began chatting with a woman on the same flight.
“I’m leaving my job,” the woman told her. “I’ve had enough of the drinking culture that comes with working in the corporate sector.”
“Really?” Sandy said in astonishment. “My husband and I are actually setting up a business around alcohol-free drinks.”
The woman’s face lit up. “You’ve got to get into this,” she encouraged Sandy. “I’ve seen what happens when people drink too much at corporate functions. It has to stop.”
During her time overseas, Sandy remembered what she had originally told Trevor—that if they were going to start their own business, it would have to be something they were passionate about. What was she passionate about?
Sandy reflected upon the painful memories of her childhood. She contemplated the physical and emotional damage alcohol causes—she had seen it all firsthand. And then she realised what she was passionate about—Alcofree and its potential to transform Australia’s drinking culture.
“In Trevor’s mind, we were already business partners,” she says. “But that moment was when I truly became his partner.” She then made the decision to leave her job and work for Alcofree full-time.
Today, Alcofree is no longer a dream scribbled on a piece of paper. It’s the name of Trevor and Sandy’s bar in Tuggerah, on the Central Coast, NSW. Whisky, daiquiris, wine, beer—whatever you’re after, you can find it there and it’s all alcohol-free.
“This business was and continues to be a leap of faith,” Sandy admits. “We had a considerable amount saved up for our future and we chose to put those savings into Alcofree instead. But I believe in miracles. God has worked so many miracles in my life. Right now, Trevor and I are in the waiting room. We’re waiting to see what God will do.”
Click here to watch the Record InFocus interview with Sandy Schofield.
For more information about Alcofree Bar, visit <www.alcofree.com.au>.
Vania Chew is PR/editorial assistant for Adventist Record.