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LONGITUDES

Taking Pride in Equality for All

rainbow flag waving with UPS truck in background

As Pride Month unfolds, we find ourselves in challenging times to say the least. The call for respect and appreciation remains a core issue for humanity.

While we note with a heavy heart how far we still need to go, we applaud those who step forward to forge the way for love and inclusion across all communities.

Among those emerging leaders is Erika Nance, founder of Pride Box. While she’s just 20 years old, Nance recognized the mental and emotional impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ community and took on the daunting task of creating a solution.

UPS is proud to call her our customer and support her mission. Here’s her story, excerpted from a recent interview with UPS.

UPS: How has coronavirus impacted the LGBTQ community?

Nance: I think the pandemic has hit the LGBTQ community harder than a lot of people realize. I say that mostly because I have friends who aren’t out to their families yet.

A lot of them are younger, and they can’t leave because they live at home. They’re stuck in this unsafe situation — not just mentally unsafe but physically unsafe as well.

And they don’t have a Pride event to look forward to. They have their phone, which is their main sense of unity with the rest of the world right now. And even that can sometimes get taken away.

UPS: How did you come up with the idea for Pride Box?

Nance: The Pride Box idea came to me after a very long week of doing the night shift at the women’s shelter. I had a lot of friends that I met online this past year, and they live all over the U.S. We had plans to meet up at LA Pride. With the COVID-19 precautions, we heard that events were cancelled into June.

It was a shocker and some people may think, oh, that’s a bummer. But it was a much bigger deal than that. This is the first year since 1969 that there won’t be a Pride festival. I can’t put it lightly — a lot of people fought and died to be able to have Pride.

So my friends and I got together, and we were like: How can we make this a better situation? What can we do ourselves personally to spread a little bit of happy, a little bit of unity, make people feel they are not alone during this super difficult time?

UPS: How are the Pride Boxes addressing this need?

Nance: The whole purpose of Pride Box is to bring everyone together (virtually) and help out those organizations supporting the LGBTQ community wherever they are.

That’s why we have our City Boxes, where $5 off the top of every one of our City Boxes goes to that city’s Pride organizations. They were expecting thousands of participants for their Pride events, and they’re not getting that this year. But they’ve prepped for it all year, and we don’t want any city to just be unable to have a Pride from here on out.

Pride Box is addressing this need by giving people that little sense of something to look forward to. Right now, people can’t go out. Some people can’t work. Things are stagnant. That can be very hard, especially for young LGBTQ people.

So Pride Box is my way to say: Listen, every shirt is different. Everything is unique — just like you.

Everyone on my team is putting every ounce of heart and soul and love into every one of these boxes. We have our program where people can write in letters of encouragement so they get that physical sense of, I’m not alone. We’re all going to get through this together.

UPS: What message does a Pride Box send to the recipient?

Nance: It’s exciting to see it — it’s very pretty. And then opening it up, you immediately see the flags and the beads and the bracelets — it really just makes you smile.

And maybe that’s just coming from me because I saw this all come together and when we finally were putting boxes together, oh my gosh … I just really hope it brings so much joy to people that receive them.

UPS: How is the Pride Box helping small businesses?

Nance: All of the businesses we have been pulling our items from are LGBTQ small businesses, and this has put a lot of eyes on them and increased orders throughout the whole process.

One of the small businesses we work with is Cat and Raven Designs. They are an LGBTQ small business, and they produce lip balm, soaps, a wide variety of things, but they have been donating all kinds of rainbow mini soap bars and lip balm for our boxes.

Also we have Alphabet Mafia, which supplies a lot of shirts to different Pride festivals throughout the year — especially the Free Mom Hug shirts. They also specialize in having apparel and stickers that are LGBTQ, but they are more reserved so it doesn’t automatically out the person.

They both connected with me when all this blew up, and they are some of the best people I have met through this crisis.

UPS: How did you get connected with our company?

Nance: When all this started, it got bigger than I imagined very quickly. I had never run an e-commerce business, I had never shipped out goods at all — and I was doing a bunch of research, racking my brain, teaching myself from the bottom up how to run an e-commerce operation.

Through my research, I stumbled upon the UPS website, and there was a little chat feature so I sent a message. Within an hour, I got a response back. And not just a low-level response. It was shocking they got back to me that quickly. I think we talked that weekend. We got the ball rolling. It was awesome.

They know I’m young; they know I haven’t done this before, and they are willing to work with me through all the little hiccups. They really have just been a lifesaver. UPS was extremely well organized, extremely efficient. Everyone was ready to do their part to make that plan of action work. And I really appreciated that.

UPS: What’s next for your organization?

Nance: After this, we will keep going. There are Prides that happen all year. And I know we’ll have some off seasons and on seasons.

But we’re planning on hopefully doing some themed boxes throughout the year, maybe trying to get a culture started where people like to collect the shirts since they are all unique. And then we’ll just go with it and continue to donate to these nonprofit organizations — and just see where it goes. We’ll keep our mission pure.

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