Thursday, January 10, 2008

Project Smile Early Days- Our First Calendar, Katrina relief effort

So where did I leave off? Ah, calendar sales.... well, to sum it up in a few words, it was slow, it was tough and I had a heck of a lot of boxes left over. Out of desperation I did door to door sales in Hopedale and Uxbridge, my first time ever selling door to door. I averaged one sale out of every three houses visited- which I eventually found out was a pretty good result. But the rejection was difficult and the longer I did it, the harder it got. A few bright spots were appearing, the local chamber of commerce let me speak for a few minutes at a networking event and I sold a bunch of calendars and made some good introductions. Among those in the audience that night was the president of the local bank that hosted the event, the same bank where I did my business banking. During the event, I had approached the bank's president to introduce myself and Project Smile, but after less than 30 seconds, someone approached him and called him away. I was disappointed to say the least. I spoke later that night and a couple of days later I received an email from the bank president's daughter, a high school student. She told me that her father had come home and told her all about Project Smile and she wanted to get involved. I was amazed, I hadn't thought I had made any connection with him. I knew he had been in the audience when I spoke, but I didn't get to speak to him again after our brief meeting. His daughter ended up starting a local chapter in her town and did an awesome job before she graduated and went to college.

So 2005 came and we kept working on reaching more police departments. A local police officer had recommended that I apply for a grant at our local Wal Mart, I followed his advice and we received a $1,000 grant (it was a marvelous feeling receiving that phone call). So money was trickling in, but we were still fighting for survival. I was taking a paycheck, but it was the barest amount that I could live on. I went to work on our 2006 calendar. The advertising sales got a little bit easier. I decided that we would do a raffle to encourage calendar sales. I had connected with a former town employee at a town event in April, I knew he donated Patriots and Red Sox tickets for charity events, so I called him and he promised that he would donate two Patriots tickets that we could use as a raffle prize. He said to call him in August when the tickets arrived. August came and I called. No response. I called again and again. He finally picked up his phone. The tickets hadn't arrived he said. I knew from someone else who had season tickets, that they arrived two weeks ago. He said to call him back. I did many times. He never responded. So a few weeks before the calendar came out, I went to work calling as many businesses as possible to get gift certificate donations for raffle prizes. We ended up with a list of about 15 items, mostly gift cards to restaurants, movies and supermarkets.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit and we were all shocked by the devastation. I wanted to arrange a donation of stuffed animals to give to the children who had lost everything. I knew I needed some help. I had a meeting with the Worcester office of a company, Paul Davis Restoration. They had been our very first business sponsor and they also bought boxes for us with our logo on them (such a change from Poland Spring boxes) I mentioned to the owner that I wanted to send stuffed animals to the children who were staying in the Houston Astrodome. I said it, not really expecting that he would be in a position to help. The next day, his office had arranged to drive a truck from Worcester, MA down to Houston filled with boxes of stuffed animals. So, I spent labor day weekend in my garage, along with Paul Davis Restoration's marketing director who I had become friends with, and we sorted stuffed animals and for a day and a half. The Ben Franklin Bank had done a stuffed animal drive for us shortly before, so along with their donation and what we already had, we had 3,700 stuffed animals driven to the Houston Astrodome. It was an amazing donation and I was so happy that we could do something on a large scale.

However, as great as that was, we were still hurting. Our bill from the printer's was due and I couldn't afford to pay it. I had maybe 2 months operating expenses in the bank. At times, the anxiety was almost overwhelming. And then it happened- the phone call of all phone calls.....
Until next time...

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