Party and event professionals launch Event Pros Take Action
Creating a home isn’t the typical party industry event, but for the Event Pros Take Action (EPTA) group, it’s part of a mission to help others in the community.
The EPTA group was the brainchild of Susie Perelman, owner of Mosaic, a national linen rental company out of Pittsburgh, and Stacey Mehalik, Mosaic’s design consultant/sales representative. After being energized from the trade show circuit in early 2011, they decided to email other professionals to see if the creative energy in the industry could be put to good use.
After one email, the pair suddenly had a group of willing volunteers for Operation Outreach, which later became the Event Pros Take Action group. After forming in March 2011, they decided to focus on New Orleans where, six years after Hurricane Katrina, thousands still live in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers, overcrowded apartments or substandard housing.
“Hurricane Katrina hit six years ago and, after a year, I think most people, including myself, thought it was over,” Perelman says. “Many of the homes are plagued with mold or in need of major repair. These people are not looking for a handout, they are just looking for a hand. While what we are doing is not going to solve all their problems, it is a start.”
The first EPTA mission took place in New Orleans in July 2011. For four days, 30 event professionals from across the country sorted through 15,000 donated items, moved furniture, laid carpet, hung pictures, made deliveries and refurnished homes in the pouring rain and summer heat.
Working with New Orleans-based St. Bernard Project (SBP), an organization that rebuilds destroyed homes, the EPTA volunteers designed and refurnished two homes, with “Design Angels” Richard Carbotti, founder and design director, Perfect Surroundings, Newport, R.I., and Mark Wells, vice president, creative services, Hello Florida!, Orlando, Fla.
“For $20,000, St. Bernard Project rebuilds homes using the existing bones of the house, making these structures habitable again. All these people want is to be able to move home. Sadly, in St. Bernard Parish, 100 percent of the homes suffered devastation,” Perelman says.
“One of the families we worked closely with had a four-year-old special needs child who never had a room of his own,” Mehalik says.
Perelman says she asked the mother what she was most looking forward to at her family’s “Welcome Home” party. “She replied that she was most excited to have drawers. After six long years with all her belonging in plastic bags on the floor of her FEMA trailer, she couldn’t wait to unpack them. It was an incredibly moving moment,” she says.
McKenzie Portelance, director of business development at Liberty Party Rental, Hendersonville, Tenn., says her experience changed her.
“I was excited and honored to be part of the first group of event professionals who came together through EPTA to help those who had been left behind almost six years ago when Hurricane Katrina ravaged their homes. Being part of EPTA has literally changed my life. I now have this wonderful network of lifelong friends who have laughed, cried and perspired more than you can ever imagine and we can’t wait to do it all over again,” Portelance says.
Donations are a huge part of the project, Perelman says. “Last year we collected 15,000 pieces of china, glass and silver as well as tablecloths, napkins, chargers and more. We met with 15 homeowners so that we could give them some of these products. Later on, the St. Bernard Project had an additional 200 homeowners come to collect the rest of the items from the warehouse. In the end, many of their clients were able to get something from our donations,” she says.
This summer, the EPTA group will take more donations and volunteers to New Orleans to again work with SBP and design two more homes built by the St. Bernard Project. Wells and Carbotti, who is a featured speaker at Events & Tents at The Rental Show 2012, are back on board for 2012 as well.
The second mission will tag on to the National Association of Catering Executives (NACE) show in July and will take place over three days.
“We’ll split our group into four subgroups,” Perelman says. “One will paint and spackle and do work for St. Bernard. The next group will do delivery. The other two subgroups will work with our Design Angels, who are partnered with two homeowners. Those groups go to the homes and put together the finishing touches. We will load in furniture, lay carpet, bring in china and fill cabinets. At the end we will have two ‘Welcome Home’ celebrations for the crew and families.”
So far, the EPTA has collected $20,000 to rebuild one home. Now, they are fundraising for the second home. “Last year, AFR Event Furnishings donated all the furnishings for the two Design Angel homes and they’ve agreed to do that this year as well,” Perelman says. “We’re talking bed sets, china cabinets, side tables, flatscreen TV’s and microwave ovens. That’s a huge amount of product.”
“This year, we’re giving people the opportunity to sponsor kitchen or bath baskets,” Mehalik adds. “Anyone who wants to donate $100 can do so. These baskets include things like Pyrex bowls, pot and pan sets, laundry baskets, towels, toothbrush holders, hair dryers and that kind of thing.”
Companies that contributed to the 2011 project included A-1 Tablecloth Co., Absolute CSI, AFR Event Furnishings, AFX Pro, American Turf & Carpet, Atlas Party Rental, Carey New Orleans, Classic Party Rental, Creative Coverings, Elias Events, Damselfly Designs, Eventworks, Event Source, Impulse Enterprises, Intellievent, kool. Party Rentals, Liberty Party Rental, Mardi Gras World (Eastbank), Mosaic, Panache, a Classic Party Rental Co., R&F Fabrics, Rentals Unlimited, Signature DMC, SLK Creative and Touch of Paradise. Perelman says she’s hoping to get more party and event companies on board this year.
“We have the ability to do something about these situations,” Perelman says. “We have the type of the people, the resources and the energy to make an impact on communities in need. There are other organizations, but our goal is to serve communities at large that have suffered from a natural catastrophe. Judging from the response, everyone’s on board.”
For more information about EPTA and how to donate to the EPTA/St. Bernard Project, go to eventprostakeaction.org.