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Chair Patti Hammitt hopes to expand Palm Beach program to neighboring Bahamas

By Hilary Reeves

Patti Hammitt is quick to share: “This is not about me.”

Hammit smiles in a pink plaid shirt, posing in front of a container with a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon.Ninety miles southeast of Hammitt’s Palm Beach, Florida office lies Nassau, Bahamas, where 50 percent of all diagnosed cases of breast cancer are already considered Stage III or Stage IV.

“The illness is so prevalent there,” she said. “All the money raised in the Bahamas stays in the Bahamas. We’re hoping that if we can get Nassau going on its own, we can expand our efforts to other island locations. That’s the goal of our group. We want to keep moving things out.”

Hammitt’s group, an eight-member team that coordinates events year-round to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, has long made Tropical Shipping among Palm Beach County’s top contributors. Now a senior consultant for Management Consulting and Assurance – Saltchuk’s internal auditing department – Hammitt has been involved with the Komen organization for 20 years.

“I couldn’t do what I do without the huge group that I have around me,” said Hammitt, who has been with Tropical for 22 years.

Team Tropical Committee:

Patti Hammitt, Chairperson (Senior Consultant/Saltchuk)

Christina Browner, Co-Chairperson (Senior Accountant)

Dean Beitler (AVP Human Resources)

Vinnie Harstad (Operations Coordinator)

Don Jones (Procurement/Materials Management Director)

Mailyn Kemplin (Accounts Payable Supervisor)

Al Nieves (Corporate Telecommunications Supervisor)

Liza Suder (Marketing Analyst)

Hammitt is a native of Illinois, and was living with her husband in Hawaii when she was faced with a choice: move to Novia Scotia where her husband had been offered a job, or make alternate plans. She chose Florida and found Tropical.

“About 20 years ago, one of the girls working in accounting, her stepmother developed breast cancer. We decided to get a team together. We didn’t raise much money – really the first seven years we didn’t do much fundraising. Then Tropical said, ‘We’re going to make this our fundraiser.'”

A crane raises a shipping container painted pink for breast cancer awareness
A crane raises awareness for breast cancer

It’s hard to miss Tropical’s involvement now; in past years, Tropical shipping containers painted pink criss-crossed the Caribbean islands daily, leaving no question as to the company’s commitment to the vision of Hammitt and her team.

“Since Tropical got its marketing director involved in the fundraising piece, we’ve slowly been able to raise more money, of which 75 percent helps women right here in Palm Beach and 25 percent is used for research. Our (fundraising) goal is $15,000. Most years, we make it. For the past three years, we’ve exceeded it.”

At the close of this year’s race, held in Palm Beach in January when the county’s population swells, Tropical’s annual contribution totaled $18,000.

“We raise the money over the course of a year,” Hammitt said. “We host a series of golf tournaments, raffles, and three barbecues: two in Palm Beach and one in Miami, where we’re located in an industrial area and like to get the grills going early so the scent can waft out over all the other shops and offices. Last year, we placed second in overall fundraising in Palm Beach County. This year, we’re number three.”

Hammitt recently transitioned from Tropical employee to Saltchuk consultant, and she is currently traveling to Tropical’s ports of call to capture data and determine how best to review the ports moving forward.

“We have 25 ports of call,” she said, “and I’ve been to all of them.”

Her travels continually remind her of the struggles of those suffering from cancer in more remote parts of the world, and motivate her to expand Tropical’s efforts to the Bahamas and beyond – starting with Nassau, where a group of employee volunteers worked with Hammitt to host their second annual fundraiser in January.

“I think people assume that everything’s so accessible to everyone, and it’s not,” Hammitt said. “Fortunately, Tropical has always supported us.”