CLEWISTON – A single mom took home a 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 Truck in U.S. Sugar’s “Kickin’ Covid Together” contest.
Every U.S. Sugar employee who was fully vaccinated by June 30, 2021 was eligible to enter the contest. Kickin’ Covid Together was launched in May, when less than half of the U.S. Sugar workforce was vaccinated, even after 100% were offered access and assistance to receive the vaccine during work hours if necessary -- including offering some on-site vaccinations through a partnership with Hendry Regional Medical Center.
“You can use a carrot or a stick,” said U.S. Sugar CEO Robert Buker Jr. “I like to use the carrot.” While the contest was Buker’s idea, he added he had a lot of help. “Carl Stringer made it a much better contest,” he explained.
“U.S. Sugar understands that getting vaccinated is a personal choice. So, we wanted to incentivize the
"We want to keep folks healthy. If workers stay healthy, the process of providing American food to American families won’t be interrupted," explained Stringer.
"Our employees are like family and we wanted
to make taking care of their health something fun
for everyone," he added.
Buker said he was thrilled Thursday to give some great prizes to some great employees.
Buker said while the giveaways were expensive for the company, having employees out sick is also expensive, and saving a life is priceless.
In addition to encouraging vaccinations, U.S. Sugar took precautions to keep employees safe during the pandemic. When they transported employees in vans, they had fewer people per vehicle than before the pandemic, and they kept work groups together so the same people rode together each time. They also checked employees’ temperatures each day.
Buker said while they did not have any known workforce transmissions, some employees did catch the virus elsewhere. If someone tested positive for covid, the company helped with contact tracing.
When vaccinations became widely available, the company stepped up efforts to convince employees to get vaccinated. The program offered $100 to every employee who was already or who got fully vaccinated. Vaccinated employees were also entered into a raffle to win prizes.
Grand prize winner Eneyda Rios has been a U.S. Sugar employee for 20 years. Rios said she was vaccinated before the contest was announced. “I waited for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” she explained, because she was concerned about side effects and wanted to miss as little work as possible. She said she did not have any reaction to the vaccine except some soreness at the injection spot.
When Rios got the call about her good luck, at first she thought someone was teasing her. Rios had been joking for weeks, telling people she would take that truck home, she explained.
The truck will be of great benefit to her family, Rios said. She was driving a small car, and had to borrow a vehicle to pull a trailer so that she could take her lawn mower over to her mother’s home to mow the lawn. The new truck will easily pull the trailer. Her new vehicle also means she can pass down her old car to her daughter, who currently is without transportation.
The timing was also perfect for the Rios family. They had already planned to leave Friday for a road trip to Georgia. Rios's 19-year-old son, Orlando, is in the Army at Fort Gordon and they had arranged to visit him for the Fourth of July weekend.
Rios is proud of her four children. Her daughter, Samantha, is the new assistant principal at Clewiston Middle School. Her oldest son, Orlando, is a conductor for South Central Florida Express and is training to be an engineer. Her youngest, 16-year-old Romeo, will be a junior at Clewiston High School this fall, with dual-enrollment in college classes. She said she has already told Romeo that he better keep his grades up if he wants to drive the truck.
“It is a blessing to work for a company that genuinely cares about the health of its people,” said
Rios. “I can’t believe I won a new pick-up truck, just for taking advantage of an opportunity to participate in a program that was designed to truly benefit my family and all those around me.”
Winners of the other prizes the Kickin’ Covid Together contest included:
• J. Reyes Santiago won a Browning shotgun.
• Orlando Cornejo won an Rtic 65 QT Cooler.
• Lanzet Richards won a Trager Timberline Grill.
• Thinkpad laptop computers went to Porfiro Diaz Garcia, Robert Jamerson, Irma Pacheco, Daniel Rifa and Noe Augustin.
As a result of the contest, about 60% of U.S. Sugar employees were vaccinated. Currently, Hendry County's vaccination rate is around 40%.
US Sugar workers are responsible for processing 42
tons of sugarcane every day. And as one of the
largest sweet corn producers in Florida, US Sugar
workers produce 4-million boxes of corn a year.
Employees had until 8 a.m. Wednesday, June 30 to enter the contest. Winners were randomly drawn by Toni Pavey-McDaniel, a nurse practitioner and licensed risk manager with Hendry Regional Medical Center/Corporate Health, partners in COVID-19 testing and vaccine programs with U.S. Sugar. Winners received their prizes on Thursday, July 1, at 11 a.m. at U.S. Sugar’s headquarters in Clewiston.