Even for Philip Smith, the executive director of the Bahamas Feeding Network, the latest donation was hard to believe – a cheque from Royal Caribbean that would feed 38,000 individuals, making this year’s total contribution to the feeding program more essential than ever before in the wake of growing hunger as a result of pandemic-related unemployment and lay-offs.
“With cruise operations halted in mid-March, we would not have been surprised if support for the Bahamas Feeding Network was put on hold or cancelled,” said Smith. “I think it speaks volumes about Royal Caribbean’s corporate culture and its commitment to The Bahamas that somehow our partner found a way to keep support for the feeding program alive.”
Bayley and team were introduced to the Feeding Network in early 2018 when they visited Moseff House, the transformed humble Fox Hill cottage-turned-assembly line kitchen run by volunteers. Bayley saw the work – and the need – firsthand.
The Royal Caribbean chief who runs a corporation with 87,000 employees donned health department gear, an apron and got in the assembly line dishing out food, helped cut a custom cake created by the cruise line’s pastry chefs and struck up a relationship with the Feeding Network that not even a virus that is tearing the world apart seems to be able to separate.
“When we received the donation from Royal Caribbean International at the end of the second quarter in the midst of the pandemic this year, and then another in the third quarter and the last one just recently, I was blown away,” Smith said. “We just cannot thank Royal Caribbean enough.” Smith estimates the cruise line donation provided some 800,000 meals for those struggling with hunger in Nassau, Grand Bahama and several Family Islands. Prior to the pandemic, government statistics revealed that one in every six to seven people in The Bahamas struggled with hunger. According to Smith, that figure reached nearly one in every two during the worst of the business lockdown when unemployment hit 40%.
“It’s terrible,” said the director who has been at the helm of the volunteer-based feeding organization since its founding in 2013. “You go into some houses and they show you a single cupboard in the kitchen and there is nothing in it except maybe a spoonful of rice in a bag. Mothers are cutting milk for their babies with water, soaking bread in it. It breaks your heart.” Royal Caribbean has often noted that its very first international port of call was on The Bahamas and the destination remains its most important partner. Royal Caribbean has delivered 30 million guests to the country over a 50-year history and today, Royal Caribbean’s private island destination, Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Berry Islands is its guests’ favourite destination in the Caribbean and The Americas.
“I just want Royal Caribbean to know that so many people want to say thank you to them and so do we,” Smith said. “We provided more than six million meals this year and 800,000 of them were because of you. We could not have done this without you.” The Bahamas Feeding Network is the brainchild of H.E. Frank Crothers, O.E., founder. Mrs. Patricia Minnis is Patron and nearly 70 volunteers, most of whom have been serving since the organisation’s launch, make it possible for the feeding or food parcel distribution to take place.