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New Site Helps Planners Add Community Service to Events

A new nonprofit helps connect planners to organizations in need at their event sites.

Shawna Suckow and Colleen Abernethy developed the idea for the Empty Suitcase Campaign after they brought 200 pairs of prescription eyeglasses to an eye doctor in Nepal.
Shawna Suckow and Colleen Abernethy developed the idea for the Empty Suitcase Campaign after they brought 200 pairs of prescription eyeglasses to an eye doctor in Nepal.
Photo: Courtesy of Empty Suitcase Campaign

Planners interested in incorporating corporate social responsibility, or C.S.R, activities into their events now have a new resource to help them. The Empty Suitcase Campaign, a new nonprofit initiative, launched Monday. The online portal lists everyday items that are needed in destinations around the globe so planners can ask their attendees to bring items to events held in those locations.

Shawna Suckow, founder of Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN), and Colleen Abernethy, owner of Platinum DMC Collection, came up with the idea after they brought 200 pairs of prescription eyeglasses to an eye doctor in Nepal during a trip there.

“The feeling that overcame us after we met the doctor and left with that empty suitcase was so gratifying,” Abernethy says. The two joined forces with Barbara Scofidio, editor of Prevue magazine, and Doug Chorpenning, planner and founder of Wet Paint Creative Group, to officially launch the project.

Currently the site lists about 30 organizations across the United States and in international destinations that are in need of supplies such as school supplies in Brazil and clothes for children and young adults at a homeless shelter in New Orleans. For now, anyone that knows of a need can email the organization to have it added to the list, but Suckow says eventually the site will allow users to add listings on their own. “We want planners and destination management companies and the whole industry to help create this list and this resource and these success stories,” Suckow says.

Planners can either ask attendees to bring items in their own luggage, or they can order custom “Empty Suitcase Campaign” duffel bags at cost to distribute to participants ahead of time. The bags are made of the same material as a reusable shopping bag so they can easily be folded and brought home by the attendees.

Organizers have also created a “Success Stories” page on the website to encourage planners to upload photos and details of their donation programs. “It’s early, but we’ve already been hearing ‘Why hasn’t this existed before?’ It’s a no-brainer C.S.R. addition to any event whether it’s international or domestic," Suckow says. "And it just takes a little bit of effort on the planner’s side to make it happen."

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