Stories & Commentaries

Aiding Hospitality, Service Workers Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Adventist family in Tennessee helps to raise close to $500,000 in “Pay It Forward Mid-South” COVID-19 response campaign


The Coopwood family: Riley (left), Reginald, Erica, and Rebecca; Photo provided by the Southern Tidings

When the Shelby County, Tennessee, Health Department placed significant restrictions on area restaurants and other businesses in December 2020 because of the coronavirus, Adventist Reginald Coopwood, M.D., and his family decided to do something to help those impacted.

The Coopwoods set up the “Pay It Forward Mid-South” campaign, which ran through Jan. 31, 2021. During that time, all donations to the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund were directed to agencies supporting hospitality and service industry workers who lost employment, or whose work hours and pay was decreased, according to the website of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, which oversees the Response Fund.

Shelby County restaurants were limited to 25 percent capacity for indoor dining, which meant likely hardship for hundreds of workers in the hospitality and service industries.

Coopwood, who is president and CEO of Regional One Health, said one Sabbath he was reading a book called Double Blessing by Mark Batterson, about the “blessing of giving,” when God gave him an idea.

“As I was reading, the Lord put this on me pretty hard,” recalled Coopwood. “I thought, let’s do something for the workers. I put the book down, and that’s when I called my wife and said, the Lord has put this on me. She accepted it as well, and that’s how it took off.”

“When Reggie came to me with what the Lord put on his heart, I just kind of went into operation mode,” said Erica Stiff-Coopwood, Esq.

The couple’s daughters — Riley, 15, and Rebecca, 12 — came up with the name for the campaign. Stiff-Coopwood contacted her friend, Kimberly Perry, whose husband, retired NBA player Elliot Perry, is on the Community Foundation board.

“I thought about who can help us get this word out the quickest,” said Stiff-Coopwood. “And Elliott and Kim are both our mutual friends. Reggie gave Elliott a call, and they were both excited about it.”

It wasn’t long before the support started pouring in.

Regional One Health, Baptist Memorial Health Care, and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare made the leadoff gifts, totaling $100,000, to the campaign. FedEx, First Horizon, Truist, and other businesses joined in soon afterward to push the fund to more than $200,000.

The Coopwoods launched a social media challenge to other businesses and the community, and they were interviewed by a local television station. By the end of the campaign on January 31, close to $500,000 had been raised.

The Coopwoods say the spirit of giving is powerful, and they hope others will be touched by it.

“We don’t give to get, but we get in order to give,” said Stiff-Coopwood. “The needs of people can be met, if more people adopt that mindset.”

— Lucas L. Johnson II, who writes for the Southern Tidings, is a former reporter for The Associated Press; this article was originally published on the Southern Tidings website and in the March edition of the magazine.