From Servers to Guests: Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas Plays Host to Bahamas Feeding Network Volunteers
Each week, volunteers of the Bahamas Feeding Network prepare, cook and distribute some 5,500 meals and parcels of groceries to persons across New Providence. On a midweek day, these 40 men and women along with their families flipped roles and instead of being the ones doing the serving, they became the guests of Royal Caribbean International and enjoyed a day of fun and feast aboard Mariner of the Seas as the ship docked in Nassau harbour.
Welcoming the group to its swanky Star Lounge were Captain Aris Medina and Hotel Director Adrian Theodoru along with other crewmembers who re-emphasized Royal Caribbean’s commitment to The Bahamas. This pledge was evident in the wake of Hurricane Dorian where the cruise line was first on the ground in Grand Bahama with its staff, many flying in to volunteer their time, first serving from its ships and taking to shore, then setting up a field kitchen. Over a one-month period, Royal Caribbean prepared 20,000 meals a day, 600,000 in all with Bahamas Feeding Network’s coordination through the Grand Bahama Christian Council and others, weaving together a network of 107 churches. When the field kitchen was decommissioned, the feeding continued, again thanks to a partnership between Royal Caribbean which beefed up 13 church and senior home kitchens on Grand Bahama and supplied food distributed through BFN channels.
“RCL has a very longstanding history of friendship and partnership in The Bahamas,” said Captain Medina. “As a company it was very important to immediately activate ourselves, our team, and every ship in the region, to provide the assistance that was so needed at that particular time. We could not do it on our own. With the Bahamas Feeding Network being in the local area, providing us with the assistance of all its volunteers in delivering thousands of hot meals in Grand Bahama, it is something that Royal Caribbean will always be thankful for that amazing partnership and dedication.”
Echoing those sentiments was Adrian Theodoru.
“It was important to recognize the volunteers,” he said. “Sometimes words are not enough to recognize the people’s efforts and we wanted to be here and personally thank each and every one of them for taking from their busy schedules and for actually dedicating their time to helping other people. It is good that we are able to offer an opportunity where they can enjoy and really feel that they are appreciated for everything that they have done.”
With firsthand knowledge on the intricacies of running a mammoth operation, Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Bahamas Feeding Network, shared insight into the high demand which has led to 3am wake-up calls and shifts that carry into the following day and in some cases seven-day-work-weeks of his team of volunteers.
“We have a group of volunteers that are just absolutely incredible,” he said. “The amount of work they do and it all comes from the heart with no expectation for compensation is absolutely amazing that people can still be so motivated. Whenever we have the opportunity to show our appreciation for that enthusiasm and that volunteerism, we take it. We want to say a very special thank you to Royal Caribbean who has been just the most amazing partner.”
After an array of buffet fare in the Windjammer restaurant, volunteers were free to roam the ship to enjoy the amenities. From the use of the varied outdoor activities including basketball, table tennis and water slides along with the more adventurous virtual reality bungee and trampoline experience, the Sky Pad, to just chilling and lounging poolside, there was something for volunteers of every age.
The story of Royal Caribbean’s partnership with BFN is one that exceeds a year and began when President & CEO Michael Bayley visited BFN’s humble Moseff House location in Fox Hill with Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell, MP Shonel Ferguson and the volunteers.
After an afternoon of plating food, mingling with members of the community and watching how hard the volunteers worked in the tiny converted cottage, hauling 50-pound pots of peas ‘n rice and managing sizzling grills filled with chicken, Bayley was so moved he ended the day pledging $25,000 in support. Months later as the cruise line chief was addressing an audience at the launch of the world’s largest cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas in Nassau harbour, he called the executive director Philip Smith to the platform and before an audience of a few hundred, announced Royal Caribbean would supply all the food needed for 2019.
That was long before Hurricane Dorian and since that time, the partnership has only deepened. Members of the Feeding Network joined the cruise line in Grand Bahama to provide immediate aid and relief post Dorian.
One volunteer shared, “When I found the Bahamas Feeding Network I was satisfied,” she said. “The hard work, the long hours, just to see the faces, the gratitude, their whole confidence changes. It is a lot of work but you know lives are going to be changed, someone is going to sleep a little longer, a little easier, they are going to breathe a little slower, stress even less. That is my why.”
“On behalf of Royal Caribbean, the management on board and all the crew, a big thank you to the Bahamas Feeding Network and to all the volunteers for their amazing help,” said Captain Medina.