Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Our Adopt-A-Family Story of 2009

I shamelessly stole the vast majority of this post from Keith, who wrote it up for the plant newsletter so the guys all knew just exactly what awesomeness they’ve perpetrated this holiday season.

There is an analogy used to describe the “Chaos Theory” that if a butterfly flaps its wings in China, the single action sets in motion a chain of events that can alter the weather in the United States. Can such a seemingly insignificant action really have such grand repercussions?

At our facility we are proud of our safety record; to date we have had only one OSHA recordable incident in all of 2009 (as a point of reference, for an industry our size the average number of incidents is 4.6). That injury occurred back in February. Every 90 days we work safely we enjoy the opportunity to gather for a meal with our co-workers … the food is fresh off the grill, cooked to perfection by our management staff at each shift’s scheduled meal break … it is a time to reflect on the success of the previous three months in a fun atmosphere, focusing on the happy fact that we were all regularly returned to our families in the same condition we had left them prior to shift starts.

At the end of November we were due to celebrate our third consecutive 90-day period without an injury (270 days), but there was already a Thanksgiving dinner scheduled for the entire plant during the same timeframe, so we decided that for this celebration, instead of a cookout at work, we would reward everyone with a gift card for the purpose of buying a turkey for family holiday celebrations at home. A signup sheet was soon circulated to everyone to indicate which s/he'd prefer: a $15 Wal-Mart gift card, or a $15 Price Chopper gift card.

At the same plant meeting in which we circulated said signup sheets, we covered other topics related to current events as well as our overall performance throughout the previous period. One of the items disclosed was that our facility made a commitment to participate in the Salvation Army’s Adopt-A-Family program as an opportunity to make the holidays a time of joy for a local family that simply does not have the resources this year.

We jumped in headfirst and adopted a family of seven: a mother, a father, and their five children, ages 14, 13, 9, 8, and 6. This was something we had never attempted in the past, and it was now our responsibility to provide for an entire family. If we failed, we would be disappointing a family in our own neighborhood. We outlined our plan to provide for the family, with cash donation jars and ornaments on a tree in our lobby where anyone who wanted to could claim a requested item from our adopted family and donate that specific gift.

What happened next was amazing!!

The next day, an hourly employee approached a member of management and asked if, instead of receiving his gift card for the safety milestone, he could donate that money directly to our adopted family. Managment was thrilled to honor that request, and to be honest a little sheepish that none of our staff members had thought of it! We provided this option to the rest of the plant, not knowing what to expect (but we should have).

The response was overwhelming!!

As more and more of our hourly employees donated their cards, somehow our CEO Ron S., in NJ, caught wind of the movement and generously pledged to match employee donations for our Adopt-a-Family program.

When they heard of this additional generosity, even more of our hourly employees donated their cards … contractors who have been in our facility for years and who seem like part of the 'work family' were eager to join in our efforts, bringing items they claimed off of our Adopt-A-Family tree and making additional cash donations … vendors jumped at the chance to help as well when the opportunity was placed in front of them.

As the donations continued to accumulate, our volunteer Adopt-a-Family Committee, devoted to administering the logistics of gathering the requested items for our family, quickly realized we had an abundance of resources. One week earlier the concern was that we wouldn’t be able to provide for this one family; now we had more than we ever anticipated! One option certainly could have been to donate the excess funds directly to our adopted family (an option many favored), however, we elected to follow the motto of the Salvation Army itself, “Doing the Most Good”, and try to impact as many families in our community as possible. The new concern was how many families can we now help?

The decision was made to adopt another family, this time a family of five: a mother, a father, and their three children, ages 14, 12, and 7. Our contact at the Salvation Army was so appreciative; she had just come from a meeting where they were discussing how best to accommodate the 30 new families that had signed up. With the donations already in hand, our second family was quickly and completely provided for as well.

We added another family of five (a mother, a father, and their three children, ages 10, 8, and newborn) … then another (this last a single mother with four children, ages 14, 11, 8, and 6 months). A total of four families had now been claimed! By the nature of this program, all of these families are located right here in our Kansas City, KS, area.

We have been humbled by the requests of these families: fathers in need of warm work clothes or tools; children requesting clothes, art supplies, or shoes that fit; mothers giving up their opportunity to ask for a personal gift to instead ask for dishes or a microwave to feed the family. We see ourselves in some of these requests, and many have generously donated items that they would have liked to have received as children. Others got their families involved, challenging their children to put in perspective what they’ve requested for Christmas this year, and to give up something cherished so that someone else can have a nice holiday.

Stories trickled in about the other traditions that many of our ‘work family’ members already participate in every year, such as the families that come together (using their own resources) to cook in their church’s kitchen to provide a Thanksgiving dinner for anyone who walks through the doors of the common area. Hundreds of people are fed at this event, with increasing targets annually. Other employees adopt a family through their own local community organizations every year.

These employees have shared the encouragement they’ve experienced, belonging to an organization that has the same spirit of philanthropy and giving back to the community they share.

When the final numbers were tallied, we had 46 employees contribute the funds for their $15 gift cards (intended for their personal holiday celebrations) so that families they don’t know, and will never meet, will have a warm and merry Christmas; we had matching funds from corporate; we had an unknown number of individuals donate gifts out of their own pockets; we had generous cash contributions from our employees; we had vendors and contractors jump in and actively participate … most importantly, we made an impact in the community where we all work, and many of us live.

Working from the Salvation Army-provided list of 'needs' and 'wants', where each family member listed one of each, our committe developed a shopping list with price estimates to help determine the budget we'd need to cover our families. We vastly overestimated many of the costs, and so were able to double up on quite a few of the necessities: where one of our adopted family members asked for an outfit, we were able to get two. Using this budget, we were able to get each and every item on the lists of each and every adopted family member's, and then some. We were also able to provide each family with additional funds (in the form of a VISA gift card) for both a holiday meal and for Mom and Dad to be able to pick out a few personal gifts for their children.

Children who will be happy with the bounty of new things, and their parents who will be relieved of the burden of providing a little something extra for Christmas.

A butterfly flapped its wings at our facility, and while the value of the Chaos Theory may be debated by scholars & academics, there is no debate that our commitment to safety and to our community will be felt by those that needed help the most this holiday season.

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