As an employee at Festival Foods, one of the first things I noticed soon after I was hired several years ago was how much Festival really tries to be involved in local community events and help raise awareness and funds for different charities. Each season there was a different focus; during the fall we would set goals to raise money for breast cancer research, during the holidays we typically drew attention to Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army; starting in January the Special Olympics (Polar Plunge), and the start of spring paved way for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Once summer rolled around, there were always volunteer opportunities with different parades and getting ready for the 4th of July fireworks.
Some of these events lasted a day and simply required volunteering a few hours of my spare time to work with the Festival team and make a difference. Others, like raising money for the MDA over a two week period, required me to ask each guest that checked out in my line if they would like to donate to the charity. I remember politely asking each guest “Are you interested in donating to (insert organization name here)?”, feeling both relieved and excited each time a guest offered to contribute a dollar or more, and watching the card stock thermometer raise a little each day towards the end goal. I knew the money was going to a good cause and would be used to help as many families as possible, and that was good enough for me at the time.
Fast forward five years….
A few weeks ago, I and several other front end leaders were invited to the MDA Show of Strength Premiere Telethon Event at Lambeau Field. I had no idea what to expect, and thought at the very least it would be the perfect chance to meet the people who organize all of the fundraising and MDA events. During the next two hours, I found myself wishing over and over again that I could have attended an event like this one years ago.
We saw videos that accurately portrayed days, weeks, months, and even years in the lives of families and individuals affected by Muscular Dystrophy. Some were heart breaking, seeing parents so emotional and willing to do anything in the world just to help their son or daughter live a “normal” life, free from hospital beds, tubes, and needles. Others were exciting, hearing stories from people who were only expected to live 10 years, who are now in their teens and beating all the odds working against them. The thing each of the stories had in common? They inspired all of us in the room. It was truly amazing to hear from people surviving life with muscular dystrophy, doing what they love, and having such a positive outlook on life.
There were a few families in the room with us, and hearing directly from them brought the evening to a close. Much of the money Festival Foods raises for MDA goes towards MDA summer camp. Parents really spoke up about summer camp. While camp only lasts a week, the relationships the campers build with each other and their counselors extend beyond that week. Counselors become mentors, and friendships that start by simply bonding at camp last a lifetime. Without all of the contributions from businesses like Festival Foods, summer camp would not be an option for many of these families.
After the two hour premiere event, my mindset changed drastically. When I walked into work in the past, it was fun to see all of the shamrock icons hanging up in the store, grouped together by the hundreds in the shapes of large shamrocks, leprechauns, or pots of gold, each with the name of someone contributing to the MDA. Next year will be very different. Next year, each one of those icons will represent an opportunity to make someone’s summer more complete, an opportunity to build relationships, and, most importantly, an opportunity to improve the lives of multiple families while giving both parents and their children hope for their future.
Big thanks to the MDA for inviting us to attend A Show of Strength. It was truly inspirational for our whole team!