Early estimates suggested Hurricane Matthew delivered a $1.5 billion gut punch to eastern North Carolina, with more than 100,000 structures and countless farm operations impacted in early October 2016. This catastrophic flooding—layered on top of a polarizing election cycle, and a state divided by political controversy (HB2)—left many North Carolinians with two needs: a need to do something meaningful to support their neighbors, and a need to unite once again. A collective desire to help quickly grew into Tar Heel determination. The Sunday Supper was born.
The Sunday Supper needed to provide disaster relief support and help reunite the community. Eckel & Vaughan, a strategic communications agency, and Kohn Associates, a local fundraising and PR consultancy, partnered to orchestrate an event that would make a meaningful impact in both arenas. Our research identified that the damage was more extensive than media had portrayed and that streams of relief funding were either held up by administrative procedures or earmarked for very specific use. We found a nonpartisan fund designed for disaster relief, engaged a third-party e-commerce partner who waived all fees, and partnered with the United Way, who agreed to administer the funds at no cost with tax exemptions to donors. The Sunday following Election Day was selected as the ideal time to unite North Carolinians around the cause.
The event started with a grand vision of a 1,000-person communal table running through Raleigh’s center. Our communications efforts centered around paid, earned, owned, and shared media integration and leaned heavily on a simple message: “Our community is coming together to break bread, give thanks, and raise money to benefit our food-ravaged neighbors in eastern North Carolina.”
To meet our objectives, leveraging influencers, community leaders, and personal networks was an essential strategy. Businesses, churches, and residents heeded the call to give their time, talent, and resources to help neighbors recover and rebuild. We engaged leaders of affected communities—this was about them, and the needs and stories of their communities.
On November 13, under a 50-foot American flag hung from a city fire truck, more than 1,000 people joined hands in prayer around the largest communal dining table North Carolina had ever seen. Following one of the most divisive election cycles in modern history, attendees put differences aside to break bread to support their neighbors impacted by catastrophic, historic flooding. It was called a “day of restoration,” showcased a community’s generosity, and helped define a city.
The Sunday Supper Raised more than $189,000 for our neighbors to the east, brought together more than 300 volunteers, and fed more than 1,000 people. The Sunday Supper continues to receive praise and is cited as one of the contributing factors to Raleigh-Durham’s latest ranking as the 7th best place to live, according to U.S. News & World Report.
In fact, public support for The Sunday Supper has grown since the November 2016 event. Shortly after the original Sunday Supper in November 2016, Kinston and Rocky Mount hosted their own Sunday Suppers to raise funds for Hurricane Matthew recovery. Charlottesville, Va. hosted its own Sunday Supper this fall, and plans are underway for another Raleigh event in November. Plans are also underway to launch a 501(c)(3) to share the vision and tools for other communities to implement their own Sunday Suppers.
The Sunday Supper earned national accolades from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Designed to recognize excellence in public relations and communications, PRSA honored Eckel & Vaughan and Kohn Associates with the Silver Anvil Award, the public relations industry’s top honor.