Donor Stories: Gary and Barbara Rodkin

Gary and Barbara Rodkin

Donor Stories

WINTER 2019

When New Jersey natives Gary and Barbara Rodkin first came to Sarasota in the mid-1990s, they were immediately captivated by the area. “It was our first time on the west coast of Florida,” Gary says. “We fell in love with Sarasota and Siesta Key. That was really the beginning.”

They called the area home for a few years, until Gary’s career as a “corporate warrior” took the family north. He served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Beverages and Foods North America, and then as CEO of ConAgra Foods in Omaha, Nebraska. Regardless of where the Rodkins lived, they maintained strong roots in Sarasota. “We were part of the community when we came here,” Barbara says. “Our kids went to school here, so we got to learn a lot about this community. Gary was on some boards here. And we didn’t lose those connections.”

Philanthropy has always been a core tenet for the Rodkins. The couple has given more than $5 million to their alma mater, Rutgers University, to support academic initiatives. When Gary retired in 2015, and they decided to split their time between Greenwich, Connecticut and Sarasota, they began researching ways to give back to their adopted home. “We were looking to be able to make an impact where there was a real need in the community,” Gary says. They found that need in the Sarasota Memorial Community Specialty Clinic, a facility where volunteer physicians and a small team of SMH staff have been providing medical care to uninsured and underinsured residents for more than two decades.

“What really struck us about this program was that it was so well-established,” Gary says. “As we explored it further, met the people running it, and came to understand what they were doing, we saw the potential to serve significantly more people.” The Rodkins have pledged $1 million to grow the clinic’s capacity and significantly increase the number of patients it can serve. Their other aim is to shine a spotlight on the program, which up to now has been operating with little fanfare, and encourage more beneficiaries to get involved. “The program is so under the radar that people don’t really know about it,” Barbara says.

Gary and Barbara hope the exposure their donation generates will encourage a new crop of doctors to volunteer their services for those in need. “We think it’s terrific that doctors are willing to give their time,” says Gary. “We hope that as the story gets out, more doctors will volunteer.”

The couple isn’t planning to donate the money and run. They intend to stay fully involved and hands-on as the program evolves. “An important word for us in our giving is accountability,” Gary says. “When we give, we want to ensure that it’s going to be deployed in an effective and efficient way, so the outcomes they’re looking for truly come to be.”

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