Charitable efforts strengthen community connections
HELPING HAND: Ashley Armstrong of Warwick sorts donated foods at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. It was Armstrong's first day volunteering at the food bank, part of the charitable work she needs to do in order to make her confirmation at Saints Rose and Clement parish in Warwick.
The national Omni Hotels & Resorts chain launched a campaign in June to bring more traffic to its website and help those in need of food in the 42 communities that support the company's 60 properties.
The campaign, Say Goodnight to Hunger, will donate $2.52 from each reservation made online directly through the Omni's website to Feeding America, a national nonprofit that supports 46 million people annually through food banks, soup kitchens and shelters, among other community organizations.
"Our competitors offer discounts to book directly [and] we didn't want to get into a discount game, but we wanted to drive more traffic to our website," said Joy Rothschild, chief human resources officer for Omni, of the company's first centralized philanthropic initiative.
They are among a host of local hospitality businesses whose charitable efforts benefit local communities.
While the Omni campaign will not impact the company's day-to-day operations, it has increased the amount of time employees donate to local causes. For example, the day the campaign launched, employees from four Texas branches and the corporate office volunteered their time in a local food pantry.
Rothschild explained Omni chose Feeding America because it had the largest reach of the organizations researched for the initiative and supported each of the cities in which Omni has hotels.
Peter Strebel, Omni's chief marketing officer, said the company has seen an increase in direct website bookings over the past two decades, estimating 700,000 reservations were made this year.
"We'd love to break 1 million [bookings], hopefully, by next year. The more we book online, the more money we give to Feeding America," said Strebel.
Omni estimates the donation from each reservation will provide dinners for a family of four for a week. The revenue generated from online sales will be distributed by Feeding America to its subsidiaries in the city of the hotel booked. In the case of the Omni Providence Hotel, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank will receive the donation.
Hugh Minor, the food bank's director of communications, said of the organization's $17 million annual budget, $5 million is raised from corporations and individuals each year.
"We really look at building relationships with corporations who will sponsor events, run food drives or volunteer here at the food bank," he said of the continued need for outreach to local companies.
However, the food bank hasn't always needed to raise such a high amount.
"We purchase one-third of the food we need; much of that was donated [previously] and that decreased, so we're really reliant on purchased food, and it's our corporate sponsors that make that possible," Minor explained.
He thinks Omni's Say Goodnight to Hunger campaign is a great vehicle for more people to learn about Feeding America's cause and those in their community who suffer from hunger.
"The person who is going online to book their hotel room most likely isn't thinking about how they can help end hunger. Omni is helping connect them with the needs of people in our community," Minor said.
On a larger, local scale, Twin River Casino announced it will double the donation periods of its charitable campaign, Project Broken Wheel, which collects used bicycles from the community and police stations and has casino employees and volunteers make repairs and donate them back to the community.
On June 24, the Lincoln-based casino donated more than 24 bikes and helmets to Amos House and Adoption Rhode Island, 12 of which were donated by the New Belgium Brewing Co.
In addition, that same day the casino made a $1,000 and 604-pound food donation to its longtime charitable partner, the local food bank.
Kim Ward, Twin River Casino's director of public and community affairs, said its philanthropy hasn't increased business but it represents the community spirit among employees and neighbors.
"With all the stresses in life, everyone likes to do something nice for their neighbor, be a part of the community, without expecting anything in return," she said.
Philanthropic outreach is a part of newer companies' business models as well. In its two years of business, The Dean Hotel has donated approximately $16,000 to Rhode Island charities.
Aarin Clemons, the hotel's brand and culture director, said: "It's part of our ethos. We consider ourselves a hotel for Providence, by Providence."
The company diversifies its donations, supporting as many local charities as possible. Each of the donations made to date has been in reaction to inbound requests, explained Clemons, and the hotel responds positively to half of the approximate 120 annual requests it receives.
Clemons said its philanthropy has not altered day-to-day operations but has increased its community footprint.
"Local organizations we support are happy to be able to suggest guests stay here and include gift certificates for a stay in their packages," he said. "I think they enjoy allowing people to stay in Providence via our donation." •