3p Weekend: In the Wake of Orlando Tragedy, Companies Step Up

Residents carry a gay pride banner through the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, during a vigil and parade in memory of the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre.
Residents carry a gay pride banner through the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, during a vigil and parade in memory of the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a gunman entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, just after last call. By the end of his rampage, he claimed the lives of 49 people and injured 53 more. Suddenly the LGBTQ community, which celebrated victory in the fight for marriage equality only to be bogged down with questions about public bathrooms, finds itself at the epicenter of the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

Those in the community and their allies are still reeling from the attack, which happened in one of the few safe spaces where they feel free to be themselves. But the lone light shining amidst the darkness is the outpouring of support: from citizens at vigils all over the world and on social media through hashtags like #WeAreOrlando, #LoveIsLove and #SayTheirNames; from NGOs and civil-society groups who sprung quickly into action; and even from our country’s supposedly most callous entity, corporate America. As we cope with this senseless tragedy, the kindness of these people and organizations can, at the very least, prove there is hope.

JetBlue

“Like many of you, we continue to watch reports of the Orlando nightclub shooting with great sadness,” budget airline JetBlue said in a press statement, released on Monday in both English and Spanish. “This weekend’s events are felt by all of our 19,000 crewmembers, many of whom live in, work from and travel through Orlando – one of our focus cities … We want to do our part to help the victims of this tragedy, as well as support the Orlando community through this difficult time.”

Along with a cash donation, JetBlue offered free seats to and from Orlando for family and domestic partners of victims who were killed or injured in the massacre at Pulse. And JetBlue flight attendant Kelly Davis Karas shared the story of one passenger that is going viral. On a flight from Maine to Orlando, Karas and her fellow flight attendants decided to circulate some sheets of paper to give passengers a chance to show their support to the grandmother of Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20, one of the youngest victims.

Passengers responded by writing lengthy letters, and when the flight touched down in Orlando, “every single person” stopped to offer condolences to the bereaved grandmother, Karas wrote on Facebook. The story has since been shared over 100,000 times. “I’m crying,” wrote one commenter. “This is what America is.”

UnitedHealth Group

People both inside and outside of Orlando are struggling to make sense of this unspeakable act and find ways to process their grief. While most of us could likely use someone to talk to right now, not everyone has the option.

UnitedHealth Group responded quickly and in kind by opening its mental-health counseling help lines to anyone — insured or not. Here is the company’s statement and contact information, via Orlando Weekly:

“UnitedHealthcare and Optum, the health benefits and services companies of UnitedHealth Group, are taking immediate action to support people affected by the recent mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. The company is opening Optum’s Help Line, providing affected residents access to specially trained mental health specialists.

“Optum’s toll-free help line number, 866-342-6892, will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for as long as necessary. The service is free of charge and open to anyone. The help line offers specially trained Optum mental health specialists to help people manage their stress and anxiety so they can continue to address their everyday needs.”

A mourner lights candles at a vigil for Orlando victims in Washington, D.C.
A mourner lights candles at a vigil for Orlando victims in Washington, D.C.

Walt Disney Co.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer established the OneOrlando Fund immediately following the tragedy. The fund’s purpose, according to its website, is to “provide a way to help respond to the needs of our community, now and in the time to come, after the effects of the Pulse tragedy.” The fund will support nonprofits tending to the needs of victims and their families, as well as other nonprofits related to the LGBTQ, Hispanic and faith communities.

On Tuesday, Walt Disney Co. — which operates its flagship Walt Disney World Resort a mere 15 miles from the Pulse nightclub — became the fund’s largest corporate donor, committing a minimum of $1 million. Additional eligible donations from Disney employees will be matched dollar for dollar, the company said. The park will also offer complimentary reservations for the families and friends of the victims, Fortune reported.

“We are heartbroken by this tragedy and hope our commitment will help those in the community affected by this senseless act,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, in a statement. “We mourn the loss of the victims and offer our condolences to their families, friends and loved ones.”

At least two of the victims, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, and Jerald Arthur Wright, 31, were Disney employees, reports the Daily Beast.

Publix

Grocery chain Publix, which has a large presence in Florida, committed $25,000 to the OneOrlando Fund. But its quick thinking and kindness immediately following the tragedy was perhaps even more inspiring: In the early hours of Sunday morning, Publix employees took to the streets of Orlando with free food, water and ice for first responders, as well as friends and family of the victims, Fortune reports.

Mourners spell out words like "pride" and "love" in trinkets at a vigil for Orlando victims in Nottingham, England.
Mourners spell out words like “pride” and “love” in trinkets and candles at a vigil for Orlando victims in Nottingham, England.

Starbucks

Starbucks is a longstanding supporter of the LGBT community and was even called out as a best-practice example by former BP CEO John Browne in his book, “The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out Is Good Business,” about his double life as an executive and a closeted gay man.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sent a letter to employees immediately following the tragedy, and the company donated $50,000 to the OneOrlando Fund. In response to requests from employees, the company also put up a resource page on Wednesday to help team members support victims and their families.

The grandson of the aforementioned JetBlue grandmother, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, was a Starbucks employee. Another employee remains in critical condition, the company said in an update to its team members this week. “In times like these we need to band together to rise above hatred, indifference and cowardice,” the company wrote, “and find solace and compassion among one another.”

Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase

Two Wall Street giants also opened their pocketbooks in response to the Orlando tragedy. Wells Fargo committed $300,000 to the OneOrlando Fund, while JPMorgan said it would give up to $500,000. The latter banking giant will give $300,000, and match employee donations, dollar-to-dollar, up to $100,000, Fortune reported. A JPMorgan employee, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24, was among those murdered at Pulse.

Mourners gather at a vigil for Orlando victims in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Mourners gather at a vigil for Orlando victims in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

How can I help?

If you’re looking for a way to help the victims of the Orlando tragedy and their friends and family, be wary of online scams. While it’s unimaginable to think that someone could use such an event for personal gain, it is more common than you think.

Both the Huffington Post and Time magazine have published guides to supporting Pulse victims — with either cash or kindness — without getting scammed. If you or someone you know is facing mental-health challenges as a result of the tragedy, the Huffington Post story also provides a list of resources on how to get help.

Image credits: 1) Flickr/Sarah Mittermaier; 2) Flickr/Victoria Pickering; 3) Flickr/kthtrnr; 4) Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

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Mary Mazzoni

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a freelance journalist who has a passion for storytelling and sustainability. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, Earth911, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and the Daily Meal.