Back in mid-March, news of COVID-19’s negative impact on our way of life seemed to spread faster than the virus itself. First, Clewiston’s annual Sugar Festival was cancelled. Then, Black Gold Jubilee in Belle Glade was postponed until the fall. Then, spring youth and high school sports and finally, even most graduation ceremonies were cancelled. All of the typical spring and summer events we look forward to were put on hold for the foreseeable future.
At U.S. Sugar, we began taking CDC-recommended precautions in early March to help limit the spread of the virus, including working from home for positions that allow it, temperature-taking at the front entrance of all of our facilities, and increased sanitizing efforts, the use of hand sanitizer, masks, and social distancing. Despite the virus, we had a successful end to our 88th consecutive crop while keeping nearly all of our employees healthy and safe. But while farming continued, the needs of our community increased as unemployment and uncertainty and unavailability of goods began to rise.
When your job involves meeting people out in the community like mine, the limits of the pandemic change it significantly. My in-person involvement in board meetings such as the Boys and Girls Club of Palm Beach County went virtual. Our local Rotary canceled its weekly meetings. Ribbon cuttings and building dedications were replaced by community food distributions that U.S. Sugar and our local partners in agriculture helped organize to ensure our neighbors had food when store shelves became bare.
When our vegetable harvest ended in late spring and we no longer had fresh produce to give, we continued to find ways to feed neighbors. I joined my fellow employees at local community events, donning masks and maintaining a safe 6-foot distance as we worked with the cities of South Bay, Bell Glade, and Pahokee and local restaurants. The people of U.S. Sugar have been participating in weekly food drives that help to feed thousands of Glades families. In June, we also joined local efforts in Harlem’s first Junteenth Celebration, and a colleague and I participated in the event’s historic march to help heal and unite our community.
As fall approaches, we are proud to once again partner with the Palm Beach County Education Foundation to provide additional backpacks for Western Palm Beach County, Hendry and Glades elementary school students.
This past week, U.S. Sugar has also partnered with the H.E. Hill Foundation and others in the local “NBA Ballstars” backpack giveaway in South Bay, Belle Glade, and Pahokee. This is a great program that brings together our area youth with former NBA All Stars Otis Birdsong and Michael Ray Richardson and provides students with school supplies for the upcoming school year.
With schools set to re-open both virtually and in-person soon, we are looking forward to once again supporting teachers and students when we can as they confront the new challenges in trying to educate students during the middle of the pandemic. The teachers, school administrators and support staff are truly heroes for undertaking such a daunting but important task. We’re helping provide hand sanitizer and other supplies as we can in our local communities as needed.
As a father of a boy (and soon to be a girl!), I can’t help but think how this pandemic has changed their world. How long will they go without being able to hug people or give high fives and learn to talk while wearing a mask? We may not know any time soon. But we are all in this together. That is why I am so thankful to be working for a company that gives back to the communities that raised me at a time when my friends, neighbors, former teammates, coaches, and nearly everyone else need support the most.
Community Relations Manager
A graduate of Lehigh University with a degree in environmental science, Mr. Thomas brings with him an extensive background in community and relationship building. A native of The Belle Glade Community, Mr. Thomas has deep roots in both Palm Beach and Hendry County. His diverse professional experiences encompass positions such as Collegiate Football Coach and Director of Business Development. Currently, he serves on the local boards of the Clewiston Chamber, Hendry County Economic Development Council, and Glades Boys and Girls club.