Graham Rahal is highly regarded for taking a vested interest in charitable endeavors, but on Wednesday the Verizon IndyCar Series driver literally got his hands dirty on a project.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver joined employees from team sponsor Fifth Third Bank on their annual "Fifth Third Day" of volunteering - which always falls on May 3, the fifth month and third day of the year.
Rahal visited Flanner House in downtown Indianapolis, where he helped preschoolers plant tomatoes, strawberries as part of a larger community garden project the organization is undertaking. It continues Fifth Third's goal to battle hunger throughout its footprint of banking centers across the nation.
"Something like 16 percent of kids in Indiana experience food insecurity," Rahal said. "It's important to bring awareness not only to Flanner House but to the whole issue in general."
Rahal helped the kids at Flanner House get a hands-on feel for how to grow their own food. As the plants grow, they can see their effort progress.
"These kids are going to have a great sense of pride just seeing this stuff grow," Rahal said. "The simplest things in life like watching a plant grow makes you feel like you accomplished something, so it will be cool for them down the road."
While the garden plots where Rahal and the children planted were tiny, they were symbolic of the two-acre community garden being developed nearby. The Flanner House area is a "food desert," with no true grocery stores within four miles, so the plan is to create a farmers market where the community can purchase healthy food below market costs and participate in the process.
"You can grow a lot of food on that," said Steve Alonso, CEO of Fifth Third Bank, Greater Indiana Gateway Region. "And with a farmers market, now you're raising money, you're creating some jobs because they have a workforce development piece of this and you're creating food. It's a real win."
Fifth Third is also helping fight hunger by accepting pasta donations at all its bank branches, in an effort to create a million meals for those in need. The donations are welcome throughout May at local branches.
Rahal said that the month of May in Indianapolis gives him and other racers a great platform to highlight worthy causes like Fifth Third Day and the bank's ongoing pasta donation drive.
"The great thing about May isn't just going racing, it's also that it puts you in a great spotlight to really raise awareness and have a voice about things like this," he said. "From what I've seen, INDYCAR fans have a passion about stuff like this. When they fully understand what we're trying to do, they grasp onto it and make a difference.
"I hope we can see that throughout this month and going forward in general."