Bess Cohn Humanitarian Award Nominee - The Human Element

Meet Her Now

Bess Cohn Humanitarian Award NomineeNancy Rooks has traveled extensively to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.

When Nancy Rooks first traveled to New Orleans in the months after Hurricane Katrina, she could scarcely believe what she was seeing. "The devastation was overwhelming," she says. "It was eye-opening. I don't think people understand how much help was needed and still is."

During the day, Rooks is president of Glenview, IL-based Rooks Marketing Group (asi/311826), which provides product development, global sourcing and procurement, contract manufacturing and all related logistics for import and delivery. The team specializes in premiums, custom products and promotional merchandise for consumer goods companies. In what spare time she has, Rooks also gives her time and funds to the needy, from the poor at local shelters and food banks, to natural disaster victims, to exploited workers.

In 2006, the same year she started her company, her charitable efforts grew in scope when she and her husband joined a mission trip to New Orleans, sponsored by their synagogue. There, the group cleared debris and repaired homes; worked at homeless shelters, food banks and community organizations; and simply talked with residents of some of the most damaged areas of the city. "We saw immediate results and got to know the beneficiaries personally," she says. "We received such a warm and genuine welcome. New Orleans is unlike any other city in America."

For the next several years, Rooks helped to oversee logistics for each subsequent trip, including booking transportation and meals, scheduling work locations, ordering needed supplies and arranging community social activities. The synagogue maintains a relationship with the city, continuing to send volunteers and donations. "Without a doubt," Rooks says, "the emotional support of returning each year is as important as the physical and financial support."

In addition to the ongoing visits to the Gulf, Rooks started a continuing series of trips with her synagogue to Joplin, MO, beginning just over a month after an EF5 tornado ripped the town apart on May 22, 2011. As in New Orleans after Katrina, the devastation was tremendous. "Clearing debris, finding photos and keepsakes, and working at a food distribution center and shelter were just as important as connecting with the community on a personal level," she explains.

In 2012, as Rooks continued to help plan trips, Hurricane Sandy devastated the coastlines of New Jersey and Long Island, NY. "We sent personal care items, blankets, apparel and food," says Rooks, a New Jersey native. "I work with a wonderful group of suppliers and clients, many of whom donated supplies. One of my freight forwarders/truckers even donated their services to deliver the goods."

While running her distributorship and helping fellow citizens is more than enough to fill her calendar completely, Rooks also manages to support fair trade practices overseas. As a distributor, she travels regularly to Asia to inspect social compliance, working conditions and ethical practices at manufacturing facilities. Fortunately, some factories are fully dedicated to fair trade. "They provide secure, decent employment to the marginalized," she explains. "The workers earn a good income and learn real skills, which gives them self-confidence, education and dignity, and they're able to preserve traditional craftmaking and culture."

As a true volunteer, Rooks knows that the demand for humanitarian work won't go away. She calls on each individual and organization to give of their money and time to those in need. "Our work has showed me that every hour and every dollar make a difference," she says.