By Natalie Strom
The Marco Island Marriott is getting a surprising makeover. “For the entire month of September we’ll light up the entire building orange,” explains Jada Shigley, Director of Reservations and member of the Marriott’s Spirit to Serve committee. In an effort to promote hunger awareness within Southwest Florida, the Marriott is participating in the Light Up Orange campaign, honoring September as Hunger Action Month.
The Marriott’s Spirit to Serve committee works with charitable organizations within the community and encourages employees to do the same. During it’s quarterly associate rally on August 14, General Manager Rick Medwedeff explained, “It is something that makes us truly unique in this day and age where a lot of businesses, all they focus on is their business, where we focus on our community.”
The greatest benefactor of the Marriott’s Spirit to Serve initiative is the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida. During the rally, Matt Marshall of the Spirit to Serve committee, congratulated the Marriott staff’s efforts stating, “By the end of this year, over the past two years we will have donated more than 500 hours to help Harry Chapin fight hunger in our community.”
Encouraging employees to participate in the Light Up Orange campaign, Marshall then introduced Chris Robinson, Food Resourcing Manager for the Harry Chapin Food Bank.
“Hunger is one of those things that affects us,” stated Robinson. “You are either experiencing it, or you know someone who has or you will know someone who will go through it. It’s a changing climate and people are more and more in need.” Sharing some hunger statistics, Robinson explained that in 2007, Harry Chapin Food Bank distributed 3.4 million pounds of food in Hendry, Glades, Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties. With the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30 of 2012, those numbers have jumped dramatically to 15 million pounds.
Marking its 30th year of service, Harry Chapin provides food to over 30,000 Southwest Floridians every month. To distribute this food, it partners with more than 150 food pantries. “We feed the agencies and they feed the people,” explained Robinson. “We let them provide the social services that they do best and we do what we do best, which is resource food and get it out there as quickly as we can to distribute it to partner agencies who can help people in need.”
In Southwest Florida, 40 percent of those in need are children, ten percent are seniors and a majority of the rest are working mothers. “When you look at people standing in line, it is very, very easy to say why is that person there? I wonder what it was that caused them to be in line. I’m gonna tell you, I don’t care. I want to get them food. I want to get them fed and I want to make sure that these kids don’t need to be embarrassed to go through a line and get a hand up.”
That hand up comes through “friends, food and funds.” Robinson explained how volunteering and donating makes a difference. He encouraged Marriott employees to donate their loose change because at Harry Chapin, every dollar donated provides six dollars worth of food to a hungry Southwest Floridian.
“But the biggest thing you can do is spread the word. Let people know how they can get help and where they can get help and get engaged. Get engaged in the fight,” because according to Robinson, it is possible to make Southwest Florida a hunger-free community. As he stated, “I would love to work myself out of a job.”
To help make this happen, the Marriott will continue to support the Harry Chapin Food Bank and hopes that others will do the same. The Marco Island Marriott is encouraging all local businesses to Light Up Orange and become a part of the fight to end hunger. Visit www.harrychapinfoodbank.org to learn more.