Within days of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, the CB Richard Ellis Self Storage Advisory Group (SSAG) of Houston organized a fundraising effort to assist. The company’s first step was to collect as much money as possible to buy supplies for local shelters and organizations, already stretched thin.
“Our business requires that we regularly distribute information to thousands of people, and it was obvious our database of contacts was the best tool to aid in our desire to help,” says Aaron Swerdlin, senior vice president. The group e-mailed approximately 3,000 business and personal contacts requesting donations for its Katrina Relief Fund. Company employees from around the country also contributed.
Other organizations wrote to SSAG saying its e-mail inspired them to donate and set up similar funds-matching plans. But as Swerdlin points out, “We were not trying to break any fundraising records. We just wanted to get out the message that people needed help.”
Half of the money was routed directly to the Red Cross and the rest earmarked for local charities such as Houston Food Bank and Star of Hope. The food bank distributed meals to shelters, provided housing for evacuees and found aid for hurricane victims. The Star of Hope, a homeless shelter in the heart of Houston, furnished provisions and clothing directly to refugees temporarily housed in the Houston Astrodome.
Within a few days of the fund-raising initiative, SSAG employees made visits to local shelters and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) locations to distribute donations. The first trip was to the Star of Hope, where they dropped off items such as diapers and bedding.
On their second excursion, they went to two area hotels sheltering approximately 300 evacuees between them. Although the hotels were official FEMA sites, few necessities were available for victims. “Our biggest problem was we did not have a way to transport the abundance of supplies from our office to the hotel where we had arranged to help,” Swerdlin says. A phone call to his friend Paul Glover of Storage Choice resulted in a free truck.
At 8 o’clock the next morning, one of Glover’s trucks and two employees arrived to help SSAG staff with the donations. Storage Choice also collected about 25 boxes of clothing and provisions. In all, the crew left for the hotel with about 70 large boxes of goods. They set up a makeshift distribution center in a meeting room at the Fairfield Inn and began dispersing provisions such as toiletries, diapers, clothing, food, etc. In addition to supplies, the company brought in breakfast from a local restaurant and purchased bulk movie passes for a nearby theater.
“Nothing can be more rewarding than to see the fruits of ones labor go directly to those who most need help,” Swerdlin says. “Personally, it was one 3-year-old little girl that grabbed my heart. I watched how a donated, red, rubber ball became the thing most important to her in that bustling meeting room.”
SSAG will continue its fundraising efforts for as long as necessary, says Swerdlin. The company has set up an account through PayPal to accept monetary contributions. It will match 25 cents on every dollar raised, with a total company contribution up to $15,000, and all money raised will go directly to relief organizations. Donations of goods such as clothes, bedding, toys and other supplies will be taken by SSAG staff to the Houston Astrodome.