Raleigh business gets a helping hand from Carolina Panthers

Courtesy photo

August is a month filled with hard work, sweat and anxiety for players trying to make the Carolina Panthers during NFL training camp. 

Those three things come in the other 11 months of the year for owners of small businesses, trying to keep afloat during hard times, and, with the pandemic upending things for the last two years, times are hard indeed. 

The Panthers decided to help make things a little easier for a group of small businesses around the state, including the family-owned Raleigh Durham Rubber & Gasket. 

Housed in a small brick building in North Raleigh, RDR&G knows a little something about fighting to make it. 

The owner, Judy Hooks, left her job as a pharmacist to take over the business started by her husband in 1979 after he died suddenly and unexpectedly. She’s continued to keep the business afloat, even if it meant going without certain things for herself. In fact, earlier this year, she finally splurged and bought a new desk chair, after using the same one for the last 25 years.  

She’s also been stretching the technology budget, keeping around the same computers for as long as possible. 

“I think we’ve still got one on the (factory) floor that’s running Windows 7,” she said. 

“We need a big computer update. Every computer in here is past its prime, I would think. … We’ve always had plans to do that, but, you know, things happen. We’re trying to keep employees working and getting paid instead of equipment.”

Cue the Carolina Panthers. 

In addition to getting their players ready for the season, the Panthers are reaching out a helping hand to businesses. They’ve partnered with Lenovo for the Evolve Small campaign. Fans were given a chance to nominate a local business that could use a boost. Out of over 300 submissions, Raleigh Durham Rubber and Gasket was chosen as one of 10 finalists after being nominated by Hooks’ employees. 

Former Panthers offensive lineman Kevin Donnalley arrived at RDR&G last week to deliver the good news, along with an oversized check for $5,000 that can be used to upgrade RDR&G’s computers. As a preview of what’s to come, Hooks was also given a brand new Think Book laptop to start the move to new technology.

“I just want to thank my employees,” Hooks said, while holding the giant check. “Oh my goodness, they have done a tremendous job through all this. It’s not been a usual year, but they have worked so hard to make things work, and, you know, supplies are hard to get, trying to get them in and help our customers out when they’re in a bind. This is just remarkable. I’ve got the check in my hand, but my employees, deserve all the credit for making this year, and making this business grow.”

She’ll get the chance to thank some of them, because the finalist package came with tickets to a suite at the Panthers’ final home preseason game, against the Steelers. Hooks and her employees will watch the game with Donnalley and the other nine finalists, then be escorted to the field at halftime, where the grand prize winner will be announced—and given a regular-season advertising package with the Panthers worth $100,000.  

Donnalley, who has traveled the state handing out checks to finalists, would be thrilled to hand an even bigger check to Hooks. 

“Listen I grew up in the Raleigh area really just a few miles down the road, and so, when I see a business that’s here in the Triangle area that’s worked in the community for 42 years, and they’ve really kind of carried the load during COVID, with everything going on, staying open six days a week and trying to help their customers,” he said. “Everybody loves the employees here and what they do for them and their businesses that they struggle to keep theirs afloat. I couldn’t be more thrilled to represent the Carolina Panthers and Lenovo and just come out here and thank this this wonderful lady for all her service that she’s done in the community.”

“It’s just great when you hear the things are submitted by employees,” Donnalley continued. “When you have employees that love you so much that they’re willing to take time out of their day to really kind of hammer home all the fine qualities of the of the lady that they work for, you know that Judy Hooks really deserves this thing. So I’m glad to be able to be a part of it, I mean, who doesn’t like delivering a big, huge check to somebody, plus a computer from Lenovo and also the tickets to the game.”