The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented upheaval in the hospitality industry, with hotels closing their doors for a period of time—and in some cases permanently—thousands laid off or furloughed and so many struggling financially.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Hospitality Cares, a not-for-profit organization founded by Michael Schneider, president of NEXT Events, and the late Helen Marcus of Zenith Rugs, created a dedicated Coronavirus Fund to assist those who experienced financial fallout.
Hotel Business spoke with Kathryn Pol, project director, Benjamin West, who also serves as president of the advisory board for Hospitality Cares, on how the organization helped those in need and how it will continue to help going forward.
The last year has certainly been a strange year for the hospitality industry. How has Hospitality Cares worked to help? Hospitality Cares was relatively new and unknown when being relaunched in January 2020, right before the pandemic hit. Where we initially thought the organization would receive a few applications a year from professionals faced with difficult situations such as health conditions, housing loses, etc., almost overnight this became something much larger that no one was prepared for.
Since we were so new, we didn’t have our strong foundation set before the hospitality industry was hit so hard. This hit included many people being furloughed or losing their jobs completely and, with this, there was a valid concern we would get more applicants than we could help. The organization’s focus for several months was how to get the name out. But small deliberate steps kept this organization moving forward. It was a lot of creative thinking by the members of the advisory board with discussions and ideas of how to get our name out. We all participated in lots and lots of conversations introducing this organization.
How have you worked to raise money to support the industry? What kind of support have you received from the industry? Like many people, we had to learn to embrace the virtual world. All of our advisory board meetings have been done via Zoom and many of us have not actually met in person.
The Pie in the Face Challenge was hugely successful in raising awareness and really getting the Hospitality Cares name out, which is exactly what we set out to do. Personally, I found it so much fun to visit Instagram daily and see all the different takes on the challenge and how it just kept going. We saw pies being thrown at the beach, in the snow, with families and many, many backyard pies. It became just such a fun way to connect the community. We really saw the entire industry, including designers, procurement agents, sales reps and manufacturers get behind this. We had no idea it would get the response it did!
We were so fortunate our focus of raising awareness was also effective in raising money to further our cause and support this organization. Some of our significant donations were from individuals, ID/PA companies, suppliers and ownership groups. I’m located in Colorado, and just recently a great group of sales reps combined efforts to host a mini outdoor trade show called “Mile High Pie in the Sky Trade Show” which was themed around the Pie in the Face Challenge in support of Hospitality Cares. This trade show debuted at three locations around the Denver Metro area and was well attended by designers and purchasing agents raising several thousand dollars to benefit Hospitality Cares.
Do you have any stories of how Hospitality Cares has helped? We have many touching stories through the pandemic, but here are a few that really stand out:
- During the holidays, we received a donation from another non-profit, A Childs Dream-CA; its donation was requested to be allocated to current recipients with children. Through our application process, we were able to identify these recipients and provide them some additional grant support for their children to give them a special holiday.
- A design professional who maintained their job, but their spouse lost theirs. Moving from a two-income to one-income family. The financial grant they were awarded helped purchase items so the spouse could complete small jobs for additional family income.
- The organization received tech donations from a couple of companies—Brintons and Valley Forge. This generous donation afforded Hospitality Cares another opportunity to offer assistance to a few recipients by sending them donated computers or laptops to update resumes, etc. One of the questions we ask during our recipient follow up is if they have a home computer to update resumes, etc.—understanding this may not be something everyone has available upon losing their job.
Now that we are hopefully moving to an end to the pandemic, how will Hospitality Cares shift its focus as needs change? Interesting question as this is something we have been discussing at great length on how we can pivot our focus as we embrace this new normal and see the travel industry pick up with a pent-up demand for travel.
Some really exciting ideas include additional support/connectivity of the industry. We have so much knowledge and experience on our advisory board, we have considered some ideas including mentorships and/or a category series to allow space to share this experience with newer professionals to feel comfortable learning about the industry. We feel like as companies are restaffing this might be a welcomed opportunity.
Currently our support is limited to hospitality design and procurement professionals, we are considering the possibility to branch out to other aspects of the industry (such as sales reps, manufacturers and factory workers). We are also discussing possibilities for support in other areas such as trade show travel sponsorship, exams such as NCIDQ and/or maternity leave.
Of course, all of this takes additional funds, so we are also looking at new and different opportunities to increase awareness and fundraising. In addition to the trade show exposure, we are looking at possibilities to organize/attend challenges and participation in external charity events within the community for a dual focus to support others. Some suggestions of external community resources such as Susan G Komen and Habitat for Humanity are just a few that have been suggested. Stay tuned as we are just getting started and there’s more to come from Hospitality Cares.
To donate to Hospitality Cares, or find out how to apply for assistance, please visit the website at: hospitalitycares.org