When an F-5 tornado tore through Angela Copeland’s hometown of Moore, Okla., last year, she initially felt helpless.
The Westin Memphis Beale Street hotel recently was given the Community Service Award-Large Property by the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association for its part in a fundraiser that brought in $34,000 for the Moore, Okla., community.
(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
Though the tornado had just missed her parents’ house, their neighborhood was hit hard. And every time Copeland went on Facebook there were friends from home posting pictures of the devastation that had come into their lives at 200 miles per hour.
The Moore Public Schools were especially hard hit, with 20 of the 35 properties sustaining damage. Copeland couldn’t even go home to her parents’ house because the National Guard had cordoned off the area to protect against looting.
Copeland, a career counselor who writes a column for The Daily News, decided she would try to do a fundraiser here in Memphis on her own. But then the Westin Memphis Beale Street and RedRover Co. got involved.
What began as a small idea for a barbecue turned into a significant fundraiser that raised more than $34,000 – all of the money going directly to Moore Public Schools Tornado Relief Fund.
“The Westin essentially gave us free food, free valet parking, free alcohol, free space and the employees to run an event for 200 people,” Copeland said. “That’s part of why we were able to raise so much.”
And it was also part of why the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association gave the Westin Memphis, which is independently owned, the state-level Community Service Award-Large Property.
“We have the luxury of being an international brand,” said Patrick Jordan, who is general manager of the Westin Memphis. “But this hotel is owned, operated and run by people living in Memphis.”
Other Westin Memphis community service activities that supported its nomination for the award include partnering with SoGiv, a nonprofit founded by Memphian and shoe designer Edward Bogard. Working with SoGiv, the Westin has participated in a blood drive, providing coffee (in the winter) and bottled water (in the summer) for the city’s homeless, and currently is part of a school-supply and uniform drive for local public school system students.
“We’ll look at things that are happening here and that our associates have an interest in, like breast cancer awareness,” said Tammy Hart, Westin’s director of human resources. “I try to base it on things happening in the city and that our associates can relate to.”
In an annual survey given to hotel associates, employees said they wanted to be more involved in giving back to the community. That, in part, inspired the move to partner with SoGiv more than a year ago.
The fundraiser for the Moore public schools came together in just 17 days. Jordan says having an organization such as SoGiv to partner with makes giving back to the community in Memphis that much easier.
“These organizations have been vetted,” Jordan said, “so we understand where the money’s going – to the people that really need it.”