By Emma Castleberry
The hospitality industry is teaming up with MANNA FoodBank in honor of National Hunger Action Month. Last year, local hotels launched the inaugural Sweet Dreams, Full Plates initiative. For the month of September, hotel guests are given the opportunity to forgo stayover services by displaying a door hanger that says, “We Fed A Family.” For every room that chooses to participate, the hotel makes a $2 donation directly to MANNA. With each donation, MANNA is able to provide enough food for seven meals.
The Sweet Dreams, Full Plates initiative was first implemented at the Biltmore Farm’s Doubletree Hotel four years ago. “We were looking for ways to help get our team of room attendants out earlier on the holidays so they could spend time with their families, while also giving back to their community,” says Robert Foster, director of hotel operations at Biltmore Farms Hotels. The hotel partnered with MANNA, created the door cards and promoted the initiative at check-in. “It was amazing,” says Foster. “We got so many guests thanking us for allowing them to help in our community during their stay and it exceeded expectations for our team, allowing them to leave early and enjoy family.” The door cards were utilized at four hotels over the holiday season, raising more than $2,000.
After the immense success of this first venture, Foster sat down with Alisa Hixson, director of corporate engagement and signature events for MANNA, to contemplate participation by all of the hotels in Asheville. The Asheville hospitality community proved to be an excellent and eager partner: the Sweet Dreams, Full Plates campaign was born. “We started with David McCartney, Brenda Durden and Rayna Lintin, who represent a few of the larger hotel companies in town, and it grew to 30 hotels in 2017 very quickly,” says Foster.
“Last year, there was some trepidation as to if the program would resonate with the guests and the staff,” says Hixson. “The program needs full engagement from both to be successful. Each hotel had to figure out how best to communicate with guests and then adapt their internal processes to make it work within their systems. This year, they know what they are doing.” New hotels will be added to the program this year, but these new participants have the benefit of learning from others.
This year’s Sweet Dreams, Full Plates initiative has a goal to raise $50,000 with the help of corporate sponsors. This amount translates to 200,000 meals for food-insecure people in our region, which is above the national average for food insecurity. “We all interact with people who are food-insecure, we just aren’t aware that they are food-insecure,” says Hixson. “There are many people who could benefit from the services we provide, but they don’t know that they are eligible for assistance.” To help bridge this gap, MANNA operates a confidential Food Help line (800.820.1109) from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with information about food assistance. Initiatives like Sweet Dreams, Full Plates also help to spread the word about MANNA’s work. “The more locals know about our work and various programs, the more likely they are to be able to identify folks in need and direct them our way,” Hixson says.
For more information, visit mannafoodbank.org.