Last year, Debbie Fox and her husband George, owners of Fox Fine Jewelry, captured the nation’s attention with a deluge of media stories of free sterling silver heart jewelry giveaways for the many unemployed people in their Ventura, California, market. During last year’s Valentine’s Day, America’s unemployment rate was at 8.1% — “the highest unemployment levels in 25 years,” screamed the headlines.
A year later, unemployment has risen to 9.7 percent. And, once again a jeweler has stepped up to the plate to make sure those without jobs can have a little something special to give a wife, girlfriend or loved one on Valentine’s Day.
Last weekend, Vicki Cunningham and her husband Howard, of Cunningham Fine Jewelry, responded to the devastating job loss news in their Tulsa, Oklahoma, market where 130 police officers lost their jobs. The recent pearl necklace and chocolates giveaway, however, wasn’t just for the public servants who received layoff notices in early January.
This year’s event was open to anyone who could prove their unemployment status. “News of the police layoffs was the news that tipped the scales and gave me the idea to have a Valentine’s Day giveaway event,” says Vicki Cunningham.
Like many jewelers across the country, the Cunninghams are taking advantage Bauman-Massa Jewelry Co’s inexpensive 18-inch freshwater pearl necklaces (topped with a sterling silver clasp), which can be purchased for the wholesale price of $4.99 per necklace.
Last May the Cunninghams purchased 500 such necklaces from the vendor for the jeweler’s Military Spouse Appreciation Day. The event was held in conjunction with Mother’s Day for military wives and mothers with husbands and sons serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. At that event Vicki and her husband gave away about 100 necklaces.
Since last May, the Cunninghams have donated many of the 400 necklaces to local charities for silent auctions and charitable events as well as a gift-with-purchase incentive program. With several hundred necklaces still in inventory in early 2010, the Cunninghams had plenty on hand to giveaway gifts during the recent Valentine’s Day event. “Our goal was to giveaway 100, but we gave away 250 pearl necklaces,” says Vicki. “We even opened the store on Sunday [Valentine’s Day] to accommodate as many requests as possible.”
It’s no wonder more than double the expected number of people showed up at the store. News of the pearl necklace and candy giveaway made its way to local media outlets. On Tuesday, February 10, two news teams from local affiliate TV stations stopped by the Cunninghams’ store to film news spots.
“Two local affiliate TV stations ran their stories that night,” says Vicki, “CNN and FOX News picked up the stories giving it national exposure. The next day [Wednesday morning] we arrived to a line of people outside our door,” says Vicki.
It wasn’t just a line outside their door. After the news stories aired, the Cunninghams were flooded with correspondences from locals as well as those who watched the news stories on cable news shows across the nation.
Correspondences came from locals who were in a position of need to accept the Cunninghams’ offer. Others thanked the jewelers for their community outreach gesture adding that they’d share the news with family, friends and neighbors who are without jobs.
But the outpouring didn’t just come from residents of Tulsa, or Oklahoma for that matter. Emails, phone calls and correspondences of all kinds, including writings on the Cunninghams’ Facebook page, from all over the country shared words of appreciation, acknowledging the jewelers’ selfless gesture.
Other people stopped by the store to thank the Cunninghams in person. “One couple brought each of us a dozen roses just for holding this event,” says Vicki. “And, I’d estimate that at least two dozen people said they purchased jewelry at our store this Valentine’s Day just because of the pearl giveaway.”
The Cunninghams sweetened the pearl necklace giveaway with a small box of Russell Stover assorted chocolates. The pearl necklaces and the heart-shaped box of chocolates were wrapped in red gift bags, ready for presentation.
Vicki commented that she sensed it was particularly hard for some of the men without jobs to come in to get a free gift of jewelry. “It took a lot of courage for some these men to come in to the store,” says Vicki. “Two policemen who were filmed during one of the news spots talked to each other for a long time in the parking lot after they left the store. I watched them for a while and it appeared to me that one of the men was crying, wiping away tears from his eyes.”
The Cunninghams spent about $1,250 on the 250 pearl necklaces and spent another $460 on 17 cases of small boxes of Russell Stover assorted chocolates (or $1 for each of the 460 small boxes, plus shipping, handling and taxes). The event costs including red wrapping bags and paper was roughly $1,800. But for the Cunninghams, it was worth every penny.
“I gave so many of these pearl necklaces away to charities each week and no one ever came back after a silent auction or charitable event to thank us or to tell us how it went,” says Vicki. “Helping people without a job give a Valentine’s Day gift during these hard times does more for me than what giving the gift to loved ones does for them.”