Caterers, rental services and designers are pivoting production.
by Esther Lee
Featured on The Knot
With the sudden postponement of spring 2020 weddings, vendors have certainly focused on helping their direct clients navigate this tricky time. Many, however, have felt a greater calling to step in and support their local communities. In the third week of March, over 3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits as uncertain economic conditions continue to spread. Entire industries such as travel and hospitality were leveled, while hospitals have requested additional protective equipment against mounting cases of COVID-19.
With countless businesses and livelihoods impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, numerous event venues, caterers and wedding pros have pivoted their efforts from events to pandemic response logistics. “We know how to provide hospitality and we know how to step up,” says Bryant Avondoglio, a fifth generation owner of a 103-year-old New Jersey venue Perona Farms.
Like Avondoglio, hundreds of thousands of members of the wedding industry were greeted by an unexpected turn of events where they found the mass postponement of upcoming events to later this fall. While accounting for losses, many vendors noticed a surplus of tangible food, fabrics, and suddenly, open time. And overall, the desire to help. “Throughout the spring, we had over 50 weddings and events scheduled,” he adds. “As soon as we knew we would not be able to host any events for several weeks, we immediately thought about what to do with all of the perishable items in our kitchens and how we could help the community.”
Wedding dress designer Sareh Nouri felt the responsibility after watching briefings from Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Phil Murphy of New Jersey. Both have been pleading for medical supplies and donations to protect healthcare workers and, in turn, patients. “We are going through some tough times right now and I hold my bridal family very close to my heart,” says the bridal designer. “All of our brides, salons, and vendors are suffering. We have received so many personal emails and messages from past, current, and future Sareh Nouri brides that are nurses and physicians that have been touched by this gesture. I never expected to see so much kindness and gratitude for doing something so little.”
Rental services have also been of service to municipalities and healthcare organizations who are testing. “We have a great social responsibility,” says Kristen Rollins, the Director of Marketing for PEAK Event Services. “We’ve worked with many of these organizations before during celebratory times, and feel pulled more now than ever to support the needs of hospitals and medical facilities, municipalities, manufacturers and other businesses in our community.”
Here, The Knot speaks to vendors and brands that have since pivoted its resources or added additional staffing to address the needs of medical professionals and the greater public.
Perona Farms, a venue based in New Jersey, took the unexpected moment to help the local community with its surplus of food reserved for March weddings, which were later postponed. Within the last two weeks, the team served more than 1,200 meals to the local community. It was their new executive chef Florian Wehrli’s first week on the job.
“For us, doing our part in any crisis situation is providing hospitality; in this case providing free meals for our community,” says Avondoglio. “We created a ‘drive through’ style pickup and we’re currently working with our local hospital system to create low cost "ready to heat" meals for all the medical professionals who are working tirelessly for all of us. We saw that as a great way to transform our event driven kitchen into production for our neighbors. We really are all in this together.”
While some venues are providing food to those in need, others are offering their massive grounds for healthcare purposes or to shelter professionals. A less common scenario, but one that is incredibly helpful is when a public park or space opens its grounds for testing purposes.
In mid-March, Glen Island in New Rochelle, New York, was temporarily converted into a coronavirus testing center—the first drive-through type of its kind in the state of New York. New Rochelle remained on lockdown after a clustered outbreak emerged. Since then, residents will have to schedule an appointment with a doctor before driving over to the makeshift testing site. More outdoor spaces will likely be converted as testing becomes more prevalent in the coming weeks.
Then, some venues are simply using their connections to help others, like the Wilshire Grand Hotel in West Orange, New Jersey, which is temporarily shut down. However, its team has been providing food and supplies at cost through its suppliers. "It’s important for us to help out during this time because that’s what truly makes us human," says Travis Weiss, head of catering for the Wilshire. "Hosting events and making money, it’s our business like any other business across the country. Yes, we make couples incredibly happy as they start their new lives with us, however, it’s our job to do that… You’re never as tall as when you bend down to help others, especially when you receive nothing physical in return except knowing you did the right thing."
The only time the Wilshire had to pivot production before was during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. "We offered heavily-discounted hotel room rates to displaced families," Weiss recalls. "Most ended up staying with us for over a month. And, it was an absolute blast getting to know them and becoming a part of their families during that time."
Tents, lighting, flooring and other needs have since emerged as makeshift medical centers could be of primary need in the continued fight against COVID-19. New England-based event rental company, PEAK Event Services, is now renting out their inventory of emergency response materials to help meet the needs of local hospitals and more.
“Having worked on emergency response activations in the past, we knew we could be a resource on a larger scale, and that it was necessary for our company to step up and support our community in whatever way we could,” says Rollins. “As a tent and event rental provider, it’s our job to understand logistics and production–planning a site, coordinating with multiple vendors, and providing custom solutions based on needs and challenges."
The team has seen demand for temporary tents and structures to create testing sites and field hospitals, as well as pre-screening facilities. “We’ve also seen a high demand for sanitation stations including portable hand sinks and crowd-control solutions to ensure social distancing. These include pipe and drape, room dividers and crowd-control mechanisms,” she adds. “Each request has been different and dependent on the end clients’ needs and the site location. No matter the scope of the request, we are committed to being here for our clients and providing them with solutions to make their jobs on the front lines easier and safer for everyone involved.”
Party Rental LTD, a Teterboro, New Jersey-based event services brand, has been another wedding industry leader spearheading efforts for venues to provide linens and masks for healthcare workers.
Alabama-based company Red Land Cotton has since pivoted its production from quilts, linens and towels to masks to help with local and national requests. “We’ve never done this before. But when you see resources you have at your disposal to use for a common good, it's hard to look away from that,” says Anna Brakefield, founder of Red Land Cotton, who’s since mobilized a team of seamstresses (some 80 to 90 years in age) to sew masks for the University Of Alabama Medicine in Birmingham.
The company has partnered with dress designer Heidi Elnora to provide fabric and access to a team of seamstresses. “The most urgent need is a fabric mask with a pocket for a filter,” Brakefield adds. “These can ideally be washed and re-used repeatedly while changing out the filter. Basic fabric masks are also in need to support patients coming into the hospital and to cover medical-grade masks to extend their use.”
Attire Rental Brands
Some companies have decided to take proceeds from sales to give back to researchers in the field combatting the coronavirus. Among them, the Black Tux. The company, largely known for its convenient suit and tux rentals, will host a sample sale where a portion of the proceeds will be donated directly to the CDC Foundation.
The decision by the Black Tux was two-fold: The first was to help couples feeling the financial burden of wedding planning in this unprecedented time. The brand’s sample sale will give clients a significant discount and it will enable customers to purchase the actual pieces without having to stressfully return them—especially given the current climate of shifting dates. Second, the proceeds from the sale will be used to help combat the novel coronavirus with a donation to the actual foundation of the health organization.
Wedding Dress Brands
As the need for masks and other healthcare equipment grows, several fashion brands have been focused on pivoting their production to contribute to assistance efforts to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Among them, names like Christian Siriano and Persian-American fashion designer Nouri, both of whom traditionally target the luxury market, have staffed to address the need for medical supplies. “During this time of uncertainty we tried to focus on what small part we can take in order to help out,” says Nouri. “Seeing Gov. Cuomo and Murphy’s desperate plea for ventilators and masks, I decided to step up and do what I can do to help out. Every little help counts.” Nouri has a goal of creating 300 masks a day, which will be distributed to 20 area hospitals.
Rivini’s Rita Vinieris is another designer who’s gathering supplies to make reusable masks that she plans for use at New York area hospitals. Her team is looking to make 10,000 masks over a two-week time frame and is soliciting materials including cotton, cotton flannel, twist ties and white elastic yards.
Protective masks are a primary need, as well as gowns to help supply medical professionals as they seek to protect their lives in the mission to save others. New York-based Dessy Group, an apparel manufacturer best known for its bridesmaid dresses, has imported 11,000 masks and gowns after calling partners in Asia. There, the contacts have sourced and manufactured masks and gowns, all of which were donated to local healthcare professionals and hospitals over at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. The brand has also started a campaign fundraiser to help fund the manufacturing and shipping of these life-saving donations.
Finally, Barcelona-based bridal brand Pronovias has found a different way to show support to healthcare professionals. It has offered to donate gowns to engaged hospital staff members who are fighting the pandemic. The gesture started in mainland China and has since shifted to the U.S. as doctors, nurses and other healthcare pros are battling the virus.
“We are all in this together and we will pull through,” Nouri concludes. “Every small and large business should contribute in any way they can to help our first responders in dealing with this pandemic. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”