A counter inside the Feeding Tampa Bay warehouse in East Tampa indicates the food rescue and distribution organization has served nearly 475 million meals to food insecure families in the 10-county West Central Florida area, estimated at around 700,000 people, since 1982.
That number increased by over 21,000 in a little over two hours Thursday afternoon.
Employees of the Tampa Bay Lightning as well as its ancillary companies Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment, Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties, AMALIE Arena, Tampa Bay Sports, The Identity and Delaware North volunteered their time and energy at Feeding Tampa Bay during a company-wide C.H.A.R.G.E. (Contributing Hours Across our Region through our Generous Employees) event by unpacking and checking food items for defects, sorting the food items into different categories and putting them on flatbeds to be distributed throughout Tampa Bay to needy families.
Representatives of Feeding Tampa Bay estimate they save one million dollars in labor each year by having volunteers come in and sort.
"We work for Jeff Vinik and this is what we do as an organization: We give back," chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Lightning and AMALIE Arena Steve Griggs told the assembled group before putting in their volunteer shift.
Feeding Tampa Bay receives surplus food donations from growers, manufacturers, supermarkets and organized food drives. That food needs to be inspected and sorted before it can go out into the community.
That's where the Lightning volunteers come in.
At one table, former Tampa Bay captain, Hockey Hall of Fame member and current Lightning vice president of corporate and community affairs Dave Andreychuk sorted through a box of donated food items to make sure the products were in good shape and hadn't expired. Andreychuk handed off the items that passed inspection to other volunteers, who placed them in a box under one of 12 categories, whether it be a breakfast item, snack, drink, pasta, etc. Once each box was filled (up to 35 pounds), it was placed on a flatbed and ready to be distributed out into the community for food insecure families.
"We're excited to have everybody with the Lightning helping us out today, said Derek Ultican, a volunteer engagement coordinator with Feeding Tampa Bay. "Right now, what we're doing, we're doing what's called warehouse sorting. We're taking all the donations that come in throughout the week and we're going through the donations to make sure it's good quality and we put it out in one of 12 categories so we can get it out to our partnering agencies and get it out to the communities as quickly as possible.
Over 200 volunteers from the Lightning and their various organizations participated in Thursday's volunteer outing.
"Having this many extra hands is truly amazing," Ultican said.
Thursday's event was one of many the Lightning have planned throughout the offseason. Over the last seven years, Lightning employees have contributed more than 30,000 volunteer hours at over 200 charitable organizations through the company's C.H.A.R.G.E. employee volunteer program. Each year, all Lightning employees volunteer a minimum of 40 hours at non-profits throughout the Tampa Bay region.
"The community gave so much to us this season, it's really about us giving back," Griggs said. "We'll do that for the entire summer, starting here at Feeding Tampa Bay. We have 200 of our employees here and obviously Feeding Tampa Bay is very dear to our heart, a big partner of ours."
The national value for volunteer hours is $25.43. With 202 employees participating in Thursday's volunteer event, the Lightning organization contributed over $10,000 worth of labor to Feeding Tampa Bay in a little more than two hours.
"It's super cool," Ultican said. "They do so much for us and for the community. We're just super grateful for everything they've done for us and keep doing with us."