There were days when volunteers like Brittany Smith thought the work and the lines would never end, but there was never a moment when she thought of quitting. Smith, a Royal Caribbean crew member was one of more than 1020 people who over a period of more than a month turned out up to 20,000 meals a day in a bustling field kitchen set up and staffed by Royal Caribbean for survivors of Dorian, the catastrophic Cat 5 hurricane that pounded Grand Bahama and Abaco in the northern Bahamas. For Smith, the morning-to-night kitchen duty had double meaning – her family, missing for days, were survivors themselves.
“They were in Abaco,” she said. “And everybody was asking, ‘Did you see them? Have you heard anything?” Finally, after a week had passed, she got the good news, they were alive. And like many of the volunteers, crew members and Royal Caribbean staff who came from Miami headquarters to work in the field kitchen, she radiated goodwill.
On October 16, those volunteers and the award-winning cruise line who contributed more than $1.5 million toward the rebuilding effort, sent in massive amounts of medical, personal and other supplies and cooked nearly 600,000 meals were showered with thanks by officials and friends they had made in Grand Bahama.
Senator Katherine (Kay) Smith, NEMA Grand Bahama Coordinator, called the effort “amazing,” thanking Royal Caribbean and in particular, the cruise line’s Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations, Mark Tamis, who was a leapfrog, dashing back and forth between Florida and Grand Bahama to ensure smooth operation.
“I want to thank each and every person who has joined us today in appreciation of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s amazing efforts to feed our citizens,” said the Senator, speaking to a crowd of more than 100 gathered for a sunset send-off for the field kitchen as it closed and a welcome reception for the new method of providing meals through the kitchens in 11 churches and two homes for the aged on the island. “Mr. Tamis, on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, we are grateful for the generosity of RCCL and its staff, crew and volunteers. We are thankful for your selfless work in Grand Bahama to set up a food distribution system on a scale that is truly amazing. RCCL was one of the very first organizations to come to our aid in Grand Bahama…Not only has Royal Caribbean fed Bahamians but they assisted with the evacuation of 1200 Bahamians to Nassau in the early days of the storm. On top of that, they brought in thousands of pounds of goods and supplies, including more than 150,000 bottles of water, personal hygiene supplies, medical supplies and first aid kits and so much more.
“Let me personally thank you, Mr. Tamis, and to everyone from RCCL for feeding our communities in time of need, for your generous donations and for your partnership and commitment to rebuild Grand Bahama.”
Her sentiments were echoed by ministers including Grand Bahama Christian Council President Pastor Robert Lockhart, who enlisted the support of 107 churches.
“So much was made possible by the kindness of Royal Caribbean,” he said. “To Royal Caribbean we want to say thank you. You fed us when there was no one to feed us. You gave us food when we were hungry. You gave us water before any water arrived. We faced a momentous task, but we did it. Royal Caribbean you did it. Senator Kay Smith, you did it. NEMA, you did it.”
For Tamis, the thank you ceremony and celebration on the lawn of the Grand Lucayan was just the beginning of a commitment to Grand Bahama and the strengthening of a relationship with the Bahamas Feeding Network which is coordinating the soup kitchen, church and homes for the aged distribution as part of its ongoing partnership with Royal Caribbean.
“Philip Smith (Bahamas Feeding Network executive director), you shared with me that food is love and it really is,” said Tamis. “and we are just getting started in showing our love for Grand Bahama.”