People walking or driving along Broadway or Cherry Street on Saturday might have noticed several figures dangling from the Tiger Hotel.
Window washers? Spiderman? Nope, just Gary Pinkel, Paul Pepper and other local daredevils.
Over 50 people rappelled 140 feet down the front of the Tiger Hotel to raise money for Love INC, a local nonprofit with the mission of helping impoverished Columbia residents. The event also featured inflatable slides, bounce houses and a food truck.
Love INC raised more than $60,000 by Saturday afternoon, which brought them within striking distance of their $80,000 goal.
“This is actually our first big fundraiser,” said Jane Williams, a co-founder of Love INC. “I love the way this event is titled because we are trying to help people not go over the edge.”
The organization teamed up with the Tiger Hotel — which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year — and Over the Edge, an adventure experience company that works with charities and nonprofits.
Williams said Love INC exists to help make life better for those who don’t have the means to do it immediately for themselves. She was one of the first to make the descent, along with former MU football head coach Gary Pinkel and local TV legend Paul Pepper.
“I’m not sure I would do it if I could see,” said Williams, who lost her eyesight five years ago. Williams set a fundraising goal of $10,000 for herself — the highest goal of the campaign — which was reached when she was in a harness halfway down the hotel.
Williams said the fundamental message of Saturday’s event and Love INC is simple, yet universal: Help those in need however you can.
“Poverty is complicated,” Williams said. “Sometimes they need a person, sometimes they need a car.”
Mike DeSantis, Love INC’s mobilization director, said Over the Edge reached out to the organization during their search for a fundraising opportunity, and he could tell right away that it was exactly the type of experience they were looking for.
“This is a little wild and willy, and so are we,” DeSantis said, adding that most of the event’s volunteers are Love INC coaches who work directly with people in need.
In order to rappel down the front of the hotel, people who signed up had to raise at least $1,000.
A crowd of community members acted as a cheering section for those tasked with going down the building as families flooded the street Saturday afternoon. Onlookers also had the chance to take a slightly less intimidating trip down a 27 feet tall, 120 feet long inflatable slide.
Greg DeLine, president of Love INC’s board of directors, said the organization’s goals come straight from the heart.
Williams said plenty of problems that might seem small to people who are better off can close doors to those struggling with poverty — things like not knowing how to file taxes or find a consistent job.
She said the guidance Love INC provides is similar to the support she received in rappelling down the Tiger Hotel.
“I’m up there, I’m totally blind; (the help is) exactly what people need sometimes,” Williams said.
DeSantis said the nonprofit has also created a fund in tandem with banks across the city to allow Columbia residents access to zero percent loans.
However, he said, Love INC does more than just provide people with financial assistance.
“We sit down with people and interview them for an hour or two to get to know them,” said DeSantis, who frequently works with the organization’s volunteers.
Williams said it’s clear that people who say those in poverty should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” don’t work directly with the type of people who are helped by Love INC or understand what they are going through.
“What I did today wasn’t half as courageous as the people we work with every day,” Williams said.
In the following days, the post received a barrage of comments, some in support of the idea and some against it. And on Monday, Sycamore posted again, canceling the offer because of “the threat of legal action in response to our voter promotion” and thanking customers for their support.