October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the Hooters restaurant chain – a company synonymous with breast admiration, not necessarily breast health – is raising money. Its #GIVEAHOOT campaign, launched from their new Manhattan location off W 33rd, hopes to raise $ 1 million by donating one dollar of the $19.95 price from its annual swimsuit calendar, along with proceeds from other in-store promotions.
Over 40,000 women will die of breast cancer this year, and according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), Over 230,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year, and 62,290 more will be diagnosed with non-invasive DCIS.
Assiatou Barry, who appears as Miss October in the 2016 Hooters Swimsuit Calendar, works at the chain’s Manhattan location, says she initially wanted to be a Hooters Girl because, “from the outside looking in, it just always seemed like an elite squad of beautiful women, almost like a sorority…”
Originally from Guinea West Africa, Barry, age 20, immigrated to the United States as a child with her family, growing up in Memphis, Tennessee before relocating to Manhattan as an adult.
To Barry, her co-workers are much more than a group of women who happen to be attractive enough to get their jobs. “It was a sisterhood of girls, and that’s what I love about my job the most,” she said, “is coming to work and being around women with amazing personalities, and they have the best energy that just lifts your spirit.”
The driving force behind the fundraising campaign was Kelly Jo Dowd, who died of breast cancer in 2007, was a Hooters Girl and calendar cover girl in the 90’s before becoming a part of Hooters management. As a company-listed member of the Hooters Girl Hall of Fame, Dowd is credited with initiating a national campaign aimed at increasing awareness about early detection, and raising funds for research.
“Kelly Jo Dowd was our Hooters Girl that contracted cancer, and that was years ago… these [Hooters] Girls wouldn’t even know necessarily who she was,” said Carl Sweat, recently appointed chief marketing officer for Hooters of America, LLC. “But it’s compelled the whole chain across the country and even some of the global franchises to really get behind it a make it a good fundraiser—it’s the biggest we do.”
Over one third of the Hooters workforce is women, according to Sweat, who adds that because of this it is “something that touches home, because everyone here is a mother, daughter, or a sister… so it’s something that is near and dear.”
Last year, after raising around $650,000 dollars, Sweat says Hooters wanted to shoot for $1 million this year, setting individual goals for each location to raise a minimum of $3,000.
Though Hooters does not release sales figures publicly, Sweat says there are several other promotions that they hope will get them to their goal.
“Every store has a chart that measures where they are and how much they need to be a part of contributing,” said Sweat. “A million dollars seemed like enough of a rallying cry—a big enough challenge to go from around $700,000 and really put a challenge to the system.”
Since Hooters started giving to The V Foundation in 2006, they’ve donated over $3 million.
Sherrie Mazur, vice president of communications for The V Foundation for Cancer Research, says their partnership with Hooters began in 2006, and that “the V Foundation is extremely appreciative of the efforts of the Hooters campaign and grateful for the funds raised in support of our mission.”
The V Foundation currently has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, a watchdog guide to charitable giving, which rates charities on a scale of accountability and transparency. The V Foundation is a non-profit founded in 1993 by Jim Valvano, which takes donations that are then given out as grants to cancer researchers.
Luana DeAngelis is a survivor and president and founder of the New York City-based You Can Thrive Foundation, a non-profit focused on support services to Manhattan residents who are survivors or are going through breast cancer treatment. She wonders, “Once they meet a mark, does the donation stop but the pink ribbon advertising continue?”
Sweat says they “would love to surpass it to raise even more for the cause.”