AS WE GO TO PRESS, Hurricane Rita is roaring across the Gulf of Mexico toward Texas, and there is still no clarity as to when drinking water — let alone groups — will return to New Orleans. I have spoken with industry friends from the Gulf Coast who lost their childhood homes, whose condos were looted, and whose businesses were torn apart — and I suspect that will soon be the case all over again.

Yet out of all the sadness and chaos since August 29, one truth comes shining through: We are part of a generous, caring industry — a network of friends and colleagues that can overcome any challenge.

Someone who has witnessed this firsthand is Leslie Zeck, CMP, manager of events and conferences for the American Red Cross, who is based at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.

“I have seen so many amazing things happen in the past couple of weeks,” she told me. “For example, the Willard InterContinental Hotel delivered hot lunch to our office for 10 days, and several other hotels and industry partners provided breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Cara Lee Tobias with the Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau hand-delivered gourmet pizzas with her husband, son — and even their dog — one Saturday night. The Capital Hilton, Mayflower, One Washington Circle, and Sofitel hotels all provided complimentary rooms for Red Crossers who had flown in from across the country.

“Shelley O'Toole from the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau shipped a giant care package to our offices. We felt like kids at Christmas. Columbus became our first official pudding donor!”

Leslie's list of kind deeds could go on for pages — and this is just the experience of a single person! Across our industry, at meetings and shows, on Web sites, and in so many different ways, people are joining together to help. As she put it, “It feels like one great big group hug from the hospitality community.”

She — and I — are so grateful to be part of that community.

Barbara Scofidio

+ how to help

The American Red Cross response and relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina are expected to last several more months. If you would like to contribute or volunteer your time, go to For a variety of other ways to help, click through to The Meetings Group's blog, Face2Face, at