Shortly after Katrina hit, National Auto Body Council Executive Director Chuck Sulkala, began receiving phone calls from all over the country from industry people expressing concern, trying to find information about friends and associates in the area.
While the magnitude of the loss was unfolding, Sulkala reached out in an email, setting up a conference call to discuss what the collision industry could do for its own. In an unprecedented industry movement, over 100 people participated in this conference call. "The response to this email asking for help for our industry colleagues was incredible," stated Sulkala.
With help from ASA and SCRS affiliates, the collision industry came together as it had never done before. While the Red Cross and the Salvation Army were providing general aid, the Collision Industry Relief effort focused specifically on people and families from this industry.
"Our goal was really pretty focused," added Michael Quinn, owner of 911 Collision Centers and current chairman of the ongoing Relief effort. "We wanted families back together in some semblance of normalcy, with kids in school and parents doing what they needed to do to keep families together." First and foremost, the Collision Industry Relief's objective is to get people back to work. With work, people can start rebuilding their lives.
When the first call for donations went out, it was thought this would fund Katrina relief and leave something to build on for future needs. It didn't take long for that scenario to be realized. Hurricanes Wilma and Rita ripped their devastating paths causing a magnitude of damage never seen before. And now, the 2006 hurricane season is just a few months away.
Over the course of the past six months, the collision industry raised over $175,000. Today we have provided almost $125,000 in assistance, with over half of that going towards tools for technicians and painters. These are basic starter sets that, while not replacing what they may have had, at least allow them to return to work. In addition to providing tools, CIF has provided some limited assistance for other basics, as well as general gift cards to Wal-Mart so that people could purchase clothing, cookware or household goods.
The fundraising effort has been enhanced by several key donations: AKZO's Collision Industry Assistance Initiative earmarked $50,000 specifically for tool replacement; DuPont challenged their Champion Distributors and raised over $41,000; CCC Information Systems made a donation of $25,000; the Coyote Vision Group of shops, through the effort of their administrator Square One, raised over $17,000; and Marco's Auto Body from California raised almost $10,000. Along with over 125 other donors from all across this industry a huge vote of thanks and appreciation is given, but our need is still there and funds continue to be desperately needed.
Jordan Hendler, administrative director for NABC, and the person who receives the initial calls requesting assistance, said, "We have had more people requesting aid in the last two months than in the prior four months combined. We are getting calls from people who are just now hearing about our program."
A great deal of credit needs to be given to our Relief Specialists led by Michael Quinn. Each Tuesday there is a conference call with the specialists who work directly with people in need. During those calls, situations are discussed, needs are outlined and allocations are made. Our lead specialists are John Junk and Bob Schubert, assisted by Stacy Bartnik, Katherine Burnotes, Janet Chaney, Dave Henderson, Donna and Kevin Miller, and Freda Thompson. These folks have become a voice of hope for those with whom we are working, continued Sulkala.
Will there be enough funds?
"I am concerned about the large number of people now seeking assistance and the fact that we may not have enough funds to provide even some basic help," stated Sulkala. "What we have here is a chance to give back to some of our own people to help them stay in this industry and to get their families back together.
"If we can't help our peers in this industry when they are in need, then who do we expect to help us when we are the ones looking for help? If I had never heard the stories and the seen the notes of deep thanks perhaps I might have cast this aside as just another do-good project. This time it is real. This time the ones we are helping are ourselves. I have seen their faces and felt their hurt and pain. Our people have suffered something unimaginable. Their lives just stopped. Many of them have lost everything. What they have not lost is the will to work and the pride in themselves and this industry. We still have work to do and we still need the industry's help now even more than ever before."
For further information, please visit www.collisionindustryrelief.org.
Donations may also be made at that site as well. If anyone knows of someone in this industry in need because of a disaster or if you have something to give whether it is time, talent or money, please call 888-66-PRIDE. All donations will be graciously accepted and if made to the Collision Industry Foundation, they may be tax deductible as a charitable contribution.