To celebrate, Josh Fahlstrom, store manager for more than five years, shaved his head Saturday, Jan. 27, in front of the store at 5400 Hamlin Groves Trail, Winter Garden.
“I take pride in giving back, and my store team gets excited for campaigns like Special Olympics because the money raised goes to support athletes right here in our community and even in our store,” he said.
Publix, Procter & Gamble and the Special Olympics have partnered together for 44 years to help people with intellectual disabilities achieve their dreams through the Publix Torch Icon Campaign.
This signature event unites Publix associates, customers and local communities in an effort to support nearly 70,000 Special Olympics athletes in Florida and beyond, as well as their families.
The first torch campaign was held in 1993, and since then, more than $71 million has been raised through the campaign, helping Special Olympics athletes to develop their physical and mental wellness, demonstrate courage and experience the power of sports with their family, friends and communities.
Publix has supported Special Olympics Florida and its athletes for more than 50 years.
“When Special Olympics Florida was founded in 1972, Publix was there, supporting our athletes from the very beginning,” Special Olympics Florida President and CEO Sherry Wheelock said. “They have been with us ever since, stepping up and working tirelessly to ensure the success of the annual Torch Icon Campaign. We are profoundly grateful to Publix associates and customers for being part of the Special Olympics Florida team.”
Beginning Jan. 12 and running through Jan. 21, customers who visited their local Publix could help support their state athletes with a donation, which can be made at the register during checkout for as little as $1 or a specific desired amount.
“At Publix, our mission is to be involved as responsible citizens within our communities,” Publix Director of Community Relations Dwaine Stevens said. “Our support of (the) Special Olympics began 44 years ago, recognizing their impact 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. We are proud to join our communities in doing good together.”
MORE THAN JUST A CAMPAIGN
Local Horizon West athletes and brothers, Matthew and Ryan Letcher, have been participating in Special Olympics for 18 years.
Matthew Letcher, 30, is involved in basketball, golf and flag football, while Ryan Letcher, 29, participates in track and field, swimming, bowling, flag football, and golf.
The boys started working at the Hamlin Publix together on the same day eight years ago.
The pair agreed their favorite part of the job is making friends with their co-workers and spending time with them.
Mother Lisa Landsberger said she has seen working at Publix have a drastic impact on her sons.
“(Working at Publix has) greatly improved (their) social skills, (as well as provided them) the ability to make friends and go out to have fun,” she said. “(Publix has given them) a sense of belonging to a family and a better appreciation for hard work.”
Surpassing the $12,000 goal for the torch campaign means Special Olympics Florida is receiving more recognition and helping spread inclusion, Matthew Letcher said.
“Our customers are very generous and like to support us,” Ryan Letcher said.
Seeing Fahlstrom shave his head was a funny and meaningful experience for the boys.
Matthew Letcher said it’s amazing their store manager is so supportive.
The brothers agreed it is important for people to continue supporting the campaign so athletes like themselves can compete with other athletes at no cost to the athletes or their families.
News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.