By Mandy Seiders, Manager, Cypress Ace Hardware and Feed
Credit cards readers are down; cashier is late; and what’s that little Post-it note on your door say? Just that your lead sales associate quit without notice. As retailers, we’ve all had these days—when you just want to pack up and go home, yet you don’t even have time for lunch, let alone one more thing on your calendar.
Not long ago, our family sat down and collectively decided we needed something more: More purpose to cut through the day-to-day chaos that comes with our line of business. We came to the conclusion that we needed to make time for philanthropy. The people in our community support our business, but what are we doing to support them? Even though we didn’t think we had it in us to give any more of ourselves, we made the time; what we are receiving in return is beyond measure.
Two years ago in early spring, Bill Murff, owner of Cypress Ace Hardware and Feed and whom I like to call “Dad,” came to me and said, “Let’s have a cook-off for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.” At first, I was ecstatic about the idea. Then I quickly realized we hadn’t even been to a cook-off in years; how in the world were we going to host one? Just like everything else in retail, you learn quickly. We set a date and put “Grill Your Ace Off” into development mode.
First and foremost, we engaged our staff, because we know unless you are passionate about something, you won’t give it your all. A quick tour of the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and cancer ward of Texas Children’s Hospital changed their points of view about the extra workload.
Face it—it’s not easy to ask people to donate money. But to know that when you’re having an awful day, an innocent child is having a worse one, makes you want to do everything you can to lend a hand. Our staff was moved by the experience and eager to encourage every customer to donate.
Making it Happen
Once our staff was engaged, we started planning the event. I was astonished by how many people and businesses wanted to help and donate. We invited a few TV personalities to judge the event, which drew a crowd. A T-shirt company made apparel at cost. And a DJ, live band, videographer and photographer also donated their time. Before we knew it, the community rallied around us to kick off our first cook-off.
However, our first year didn’t come without challenges. Just 40 days before the event, we only had five teams signed up, so we began approaching everyone. Our local air-conditioning company formed a team; a few bars and even the fire department came out to cook as well.
The day was a success, but most of all a learning experience. We raised more than $3,500 that day and more than $8,000 for the year, but something was still missing.
Learning from Experience
So we tried again. At the second cookoff, we had no problem signing teams up, but this time around we wanted to remind people about the children in need.
We invited Lauren Flournoy and her 2-year-old daughter Lillian to come out to tell their story. Lillian was born with Turner Syndrome, a genetic disorder, and spent the first three months of her life on life support at the hospital The Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals funds in our area. Her inspirational story added a personal touch to the event and encouraged people to give even more than the previous year—we raised more than $7,700 that day and almost $20,000 for the year.
To know that by putting in that extra effort you can make a difference in the world is remarkable. The future of philanthropy depends on people like us who recognize, even in tough economic times, the importance of giving back to our communities.
There’s a great quote from tennis player Arthur Ashe that helps me sum up my experience: “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”
Mandy Seiders is the manager of Cypress Ace Hardware and Feed in Houston. She helps lead the store in new merchandising and marketing initiatives and helps her peers open stores in other markets. Seiders is active in the community and local charities. She is married and has two children, Hailey and Henry.