Publix Super Markets’ support of Special Olympics began in 1972 when Publix and founder, George Jenkins, provided the funds to send 60 Florida athletes with intellectual disabilities and their chaperones to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games in Los Angeles.
“We recognized the impact of Special Olympics as a means to build strong communities then, and this legacy continues today as we are proud to be an employer of choice among more than 800 Special Olympics athletes across our seven-state operating area. We offer our athletes more than just a job – we offer a fulfilling career and an extension of family,” said Maria Brous, Publix Director of Media and Community Relations.
Since 1993, more than $46.4 million dollars has been raised through the Torch Icon Campaign and has continued to help give athletes continued opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience pure joy by getting to fulfill their sporting dreams alongside family, friends and their local communities.
Special Olympics Florida – Leon County athletes visit Publix stores during the Torch Icon Campaign, Publix’s largest fundraiser for Special Olympics.
“At Publix, our mission is to be involved as responsible citizens within our communities.” Not only does Publix support Special Olympics athletes by providing financial funding through their partnerships, but the organization also employees those with disabilities in its workplace. Publix strives to be a business that is reflective of the communities in which it operates by fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In doing so, the grocery store chain has solidified a reputation for hiring people with disabilities, which drives unrivaled customer loyalty, and making the types of accommodations that allow individuals to flourish professionally and contribute to the company’s bottom line.
Davion Sheppard, a Special Olympics athlete, began his part-time position at the Riverview Publix in Tampa a year and a half ago, as a stock clerk.
“I really like working with the customers and telling them where things are,” he said, adding that he knows the location and aisle number of every item in the store.
It also greatly pleases him that he gives much of the money he earns to his grandmother, the woman who drives him to work and has been his cherished caretaker since he was a young child.
Something else he delights in is participating in Special Olympics Florida flag football, basketball and volleyball competitions. “Special Olympics has shown me great leadership and how to work as a team member,” Sheppard said.
Davion Sheppard working at Publix as a stock clerk.
Store manager T. R. Lindow — who described the young man as a “solid performer and a guy with a million-dollar smile” — had no knowledge of that aspect of his life until he asked if he could have time off to attend a Special Olympics competition. “I asked if he was a volunteer and he said, ‘No, I’m a player,’” said Lindow, who went on to express how the Publix campaign to benefit the organization suddenly took on an even deeper meaning in that one of his employees is involved.
“Our managers conduct in-person interviews during the hiring process, and they’re very good at recognizing potential talent,” said Publix media and community relations manager Brian West.
Special Olympics Florida serves more than 50,000 athletes who compete at local, state, national and worldwide levels. In addition to training and competition, Special Olympics Florida provides free medical exams for thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities through its health programs, including much-needed access to free prescription glasses and hearing aids. And without partners like Publix, the services provided to athletes at no cost through Special Olympics would not exist.
In addition to making the Top 50 of Fortune Magazine’s list of the world’s most admired companies this year, Publix has also been named one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in America for 21 consecutive years, and it’s easy to recognize why.