While the entire nation is the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, it is hard to imagine a workforce community harder hit by the crisis than Fort Myers Beach hospitality industry employees. To help out in these trying times, a group of local citizens partnered with the Fort Myers Beach Community Foundation to form #WeAreFMB that provides $50 Publix gift cards to unemployed island hospitality workers.
“Mayor Anita Cereceda and I were talking a few Saturdays ago about cancelling the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival for mid-April” recalled Janeen Paulauskis of the Barefoot Event Group, co-founder of #WeAreFMB and Film Festival Executive Director. “The conversation shifted to a friend who lost their server job due to the coronavirus pandemic, and how it would affect so many others in the Fort Myers Beach hospitality industry. We wondered what we could do to help and came up with the idea to raise funds for them through t-shirt sales.”
Janeen added, “We made a few telephone calls to some key people, and before you knew it, Dave Anderson of Krusty Pete’s said he could create the shirts and Tanya Keller joined in for marketing. We met for lunch – you could still do that back then – with Marty Harrity of the Doc Ford’s Group, Tom Torgerson of Margaritaville FMB and John Lallo of Pete’s Time Out to ask for help, and by Monday we were on our way!”
A key piece of advice was to coordinate with a professional accountant, “so we joined forces with Jack Kahrnoff of Beach Accounting & Tax Services,” Janeen explained. “He strongly suggested for tax reasons we work through an established local non-profit and we immediately thought of the Fort Myers Beach Community Foundation. I just worked with them for their January fundraiser and the Mayor’s late Mother was a Pilot Club Member that became the FMB Community Foundation, so that was synchronicity!”
#WeAreFMB offers tank tops and t-shirts. “Each are $15 if you pick it up,” Janeen said. “If we mail it, that becomes $21. Many people are paying more than $15 as they know it goes to a great cause. Some give up an extra buck or two, but others go up to several hundred dollars more, so anything you can contribute, we appreciate. T-shirt sizes are Small to XXX, with tanktops Small to XX. The FMB Community Foundation handles all the money, so they buy the Publix gift cards and get them to us for distribution. Even though we buy the gift cards from the island Publix, they are good at any location, as many Fort Myers Beach hospitality workers live elsewhere. Shirt orders and contributions now are only available through www.fortmyersbeachcf.com.”
$19,000 & Counting!
By the end of March, #WeAreFMB raised over $19,000 and counting! “Over 230 people applied so far, “Janeen explained, “and I have another boxful of applications. Once we verify yours, we contact you with the distribution time and location; all you do is bring your driver’s license and your own pen. We have had three distributions so far, with our fourth coming up. On distribution days, we follow Social Distancing guidelines, even marking spots for people to stand that are six feet apart and discourage congregating in groups of 8 or more. For right now, we limit the $50 gift cards to each person just once, but may eventually be able offer a second, depending on the need and our available funds.”
Once word began to get out, the local media and Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau picked it up. Janeen reflected, “They spread our message and it took off. Suddenly we received contributions from folks up north, so funds are coming from everywhere. We just wanted to help, but it turned into a movement. We have now trademarked ‘#WeAreFMB’ to continue it into the future, when things get better. It purposely has a happy connotation, rather than something negative, like ‘FMB Strong,’ so when the community roars back, maybe businesses and organizations will use it to mark anniversaries and things like that. Fort Myers Beach is ordinarily such as happy place and we want to reflect that.”
For Janeen personally, “#WeAreFMB proves once more the beach community always comes together during a crisis to help each other. It would be easy to forget our hospitality friends with everything we all have now on our minds, but our residents and frequent visitors realize that for many of them, their income is either greatly reduced or gone entirely, so they want to help as best they can. No one knows that better than me, after the recent loss of my husband, how much this community has given back to me in the past year, so this generosity does not surprise me at all!