When Hurricane Harvey struck last year, Riggs saw a startling post on the PCMA Catalyst listserv from a meeting planner in Houston. A woman’s entire company had just been affected — 2,000 people displaced from their homes, as well as their corporate headquarters, by the storm and flooding damage.
“I responded to her, ‘Are you ok?’ And we kept up this email conversation, and I learned what they were going through,” Riggs said. “This was during the first 24 hours and they were in shock. They needed everything.”
Riggs and her colleagues at the PCMA Greater Midwest Chapter struggled to think of ways to help. They wanted to rush to Texas and help on the ground, but on such short notice, didn’t know where to go, what to do, or whether it was even safe to be there. Riggs heard that the Red Cross was doing an excellent job with food and water, but that residents found themselves without the most basic of belongings. So they came up with the idea of creating an Amazon wish list, and having the items sent to be distributed from the garage of a resident whose home hadn’t been affected.
“There were kids going to school with no shoes or socks, and just the one set of clothes on their back for five days. They needed everything,” she recalled. “It was a total grassroots effort and it was totally nimble, which I love. I was proud of our chapter being able to move so quickly. If you think about it, in the travel industry we have a really cool network of people who have the pulse of what’s going on in crisis situations, and the connections to be in touch and act fast. There’s a lot of potential for quick action there.”
Hurricane Harvey wasn’t the first time Riggs and her colleagues had mobilized for a worthy cause. Incorporating humanitarian projects in conference itineraries has been a longstanding part of Tourism Vancouver’s philanthropic outreach program, VanGiving, which once collected 36,000 diapers in a fundraising drive for a Chicago-based adoption agency. “People can make a difference when they attend a meeting,” Riggs said. “When I go to events and speak about charitable giving, I say, ‘Make sure your meeting has a way to give back. That’s how you’ll see members, especially millennials, moved to attend your conferences.’”
Learn more about Tourism Vancouver’s VanGiving initiative at tourismvancouver.com/meetings/why-vancouver/vangiving/.