LAUNDRY FOR 40,000? New store opening? JUST DO IT!

The Nike Factory Store in Opry Mills was one of 2,773 Nashville businesses that sustained flood damage in May 2010. And like many, many Nashville individuals and businesses hit by losses, the store’s owners and employees responded with giving instead of placing themselves first. Now, almost two years later, Nike celebrates a grand re-opening with memories of how Nike greatly re-bounded from the flood.

Beth Sessler speaks on behalf of Nike. Because of her great passion to help others and lead, Nike staff laundered and gave away over 40,000 items to flood victims.

Store manager Beth Sesler recalls how volunteers just started contributing to what turned out to be one of Nashville’s biggest clothing giveaways.

“It was several days before we could even get access to the store. We had to wait for water to recede,” she said. “We went in, and the first thing I remember is the emotion of knowing how much labor went into putting the store together. And, now, it seemed like it was all in vain.”

Beth said there had been 2 feet of water in the store, that merchandise above that level had absorbed water, “and even the paper in the shirts was wet.”

“The easiest thing we could have done, and the quickest thing as far as remediation for the space was concerned, would have been to destroy all of the merchandise,” she added.

Flood victims were able to get free clothes from Nike just days after the Nashville 2010 Flood.

Doing what’s easy is not always what’s right. Beth saw an opportunity. Their destiny became the organization of a community-wide volunteer project that placed the store’s 40,000 pieces of merchandise in the hands of flood-impacted families served by Metro Schools and local charities.

“We all knew that it had to go to the flood victims. And we had to do what we could for the community,” she recalled.

The process of preparing the Nike Factory Store’s clothing for donation had begun.

Beth’s team took merchandise from their store. Under a circus tent set up in the Opry Mills’ parking lot, they removed clothing tags, sorted the items by size, bagged the merchandise and placed it in eight portable storage units.

Then, the soiled product needed to be laundered. Beth sought cost estimates, and she connected with UniFirst, a uniform and work wear provider. To her delight, they stepped up to handle this enormous laundry project.

UniFirst’s general manager Chris Neeley said, “We were particularly eager to contribute to the volunteer efforts launched to help those who suddenly found themselves with nothing.”

Another photo showing Nike's generosity after the Flood.

With the PODs full of clean clothing, the massive re-sorting and arranging effort began. Beth recalls, “When you’re dealing with 40,000 units, that’s a huge chore. That’s T-shirts, pants and jackets. We also had socks, which probably was the biggest challenge for my team. When you talk about mating 8,000 units of socks, you can imagine. I mean, you do it at home, and there’s always that missing sock. I think out of 8,000 units, we had three missing socks. So we did pretty well on that.”

Working in concert with Hands On Nashville and Metro Nashville Public Schools, a giant clothing giveaway event was planned for McGavock Elementary School. Metro Nashville Public Schools’ students, faculty and their families, along with other flood-impacted households served by Catholic Charities of Tennessee, St. Paul A.M.E. Church and Bellevue Church of Christ were invited to attend.
On May 28, about 2,000 people entered McGavock Elementary School’s gym to take advantage of this generous offer, receiving 10 articles of clothing and six pairs of socks per member of each household.

A 150-member volunteer team was there to support Nike’s vision and ensure a special shopping experience – free of charge – that was equivalent to shopping at a Nike store.

“We served as personal shoppers, and each flood victim or family that came in that day had a personal shopper help find their products,” Beth said. “We were able to match items for them to put an outfit together, and I think that’s what made the event very special.”

Beth, who has done other volunteer work ever since she was a child, said the delighted reaction from children that day is something she will remember.

Last night was the Nike grand re-opening. Beth, Mayor Karl Dean, Brian Williams and many others told stories and reminisced on their teamwork during the 2010 Nashville flood. It was a wonderful celebration filled with pride and accomplishment. Their story will continue to be shared and remembered as one of the wonderful response efforts from the 2010 Nashville Flood. Thank you, Nike!

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