CARLTON FLETCHER: Albany business owners challenge others to adopt families

OPINION: Grassroots campaign could impact Albany holiday season

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

I’m hoping that change isn’t hopeless. I’m hoping to start it with me.

Emeli Sande

It started with a simple conversation among friends sitting around the lunch table. The impact, though, could spread throughout this community and change a lot of people’s lives for the better.

“(Wild Flour restaurant owner) Sarah Edmonds, (Hilton Garden Inn assistant/acting GM) Linda Davis and I were talking, and the conversation turned to the importance of shopping local,” businesswoman and Ward III Albany City Commissioner-elect B.J. Fletcher said Tuesday afternoon. “Sarah said, ‘You know, if anyone needs anything in a community, they turn to the local mom-and-pop store owners.’ I told them about how the staff at BJ’s (Country Buffet) had ‘adopted’ a needy family over Thanksgiving, and all three of us at the same time said, ‘Why couldn’t we all do that?’”

And thus was born a grassroots adopt-the-needy challenge.

“Someone called me anonymously and told me about the family we adopted,” Fletcher said. “I had no interest in helping someone who’s not willing to help themselves, so I went by and visited the family at their home. If I drove up to some trashy place with about 10 folks sitting around on cellphones, I was going the other way. But this was one of the nicest little homes I’ve ever been in. The family was just having a hard time of it.

“Their stove went out, and the grandmother was worried about Thanksgiving dinner. I asked the family if they would be my guests (at BJ’s). There were 11 of them, and they were just the nicest, sweetest family. Everyone was so appreciative. Some of my staff overheard them talking about the stove going out, so they asked me if we could all pitch in and buy them a new stove for Christmas.”

When Fletcher told Edmonds and Davis the story, they too decided to “adopt” families for the holidays. And they figured if they could do it, why not other businesses?

“We had been talking about taxpayers in the community ‘adopting’ local businesses to support during the holiday season, so we thought we’d pay it forward and adopt deserving families,” Fletcher said. “What we’re asking the community to do is let us know if there are deserving families who are having a tough time. We’re not looking for people who go from one handout line to another all day without doing anything to improve their situations. We want families who are trying to help themselves but can’t quite make it. Those are the kind of people you want to help.

“If religious leaders, educators or others in the community know of deserving families like that, I’d like for them to call me. And if businesses are willing to adopt a family, they can call, too. We’ll see how many we can put together and maybe make a difference during this holiday season.”

Fletcher’s contact numbers are (229) 854-9443, (229) 439-1600 or (229) 518-5004.

Davis said she’d like to see the concept catch on throughout the corporate community.

“What’s really great about this is that it’s our employees who are doing it,” she said. “They all want to be a part of it, from top to bottom. It’s the first time we’ve done something like this, but it would be nice if it could catch on.”

Fletcher’s no stranger to such challenges. A few years back she challenged local businesses to add one more job to combat the flailing local economy, and dozens met her challenge.

“I’ve done a little informal checking, and about 90 percent of those people are still in those jobs,” she said.

Fletcher said the citizen-friendly approach is one she plans to carry over to the City Commission.

“I’m excited about Jan. 13 (when she will be sworn in), but I’m not waiting for then,” she said. “I think it’s important for our elected officials to set a good example for the people in a community to follow. If we do that, it will have a trickle-down effect communitywide.”

Not to mention giving a little holiday hope and cheer to families that might not otherwise have any.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton/fletcher@albanyherald.com.