The United Way team with piles of Thanksgiving kits at the Rockwell Automation Fair in Houston, TX
December 13, 2017
Written by Katie Kuhn, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County
As the weather gets colder and the holidays approach, families come together to share warm meals and spend time with one another. For thousands of families affected by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, that special yearly tradition of sharing a meal on Thanksgiving together may have been challenging, if not impossible.
Rockwell Automation, a phenomenal United Way corporate partner and sponsor of the annual Season of Caring, recognized this need and invited the Volunteer Engagement team from United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County to collaborate and create a meaningful volunteer experience. Six members of the team flew to Houston to support the engagement of Rockwell employees, customers and vendors in packing 8,000 Thanksgiving meal kits at their annual Automation Fair® on November 15-16. In collaboration with United Way of Greater Houston, the kits were distributed to Houston residents through various United Way affiliate agencies and partners in time for Thanksgiving.
Three members of the Volunteer Engagement Team shared their favorite memories from this unforgettable experience:
“On day one (of two days planned for the packing), as I marked the time and coordinated available volunteers, I received hourly updates from teammate Lindsay who was tracking all outgoing pallets. There was excitement among volunteers that “we might even pack all 8,000 today.” With our original goal of packing for two days, I was hopeful but not confident, this would actually happen in one day. Over the lunch rush, the number of kits completed were off the charts. At 1:00pm I asked for an update. Lindsay said, “My phone crashed, please calculate 125 pallets.” I plugged the figures into my phone calculator and I replied, “What’s that number again, this can’t be right.” I was assured the count was correct and as I cleared the screen and did it again, 125 pallets multiplied by 63 kits, it was amazing that we were almost at goal of 8,000! With a feeling of surprise, excitement and appreciation, I quickly entered the main area packing stations and exclaimed at the top of my lungs to volunteers, “you all have packed 7,875 thousand thanksgiving meal kits and we are just about ready to complete our project today!” The whole area cheered and paused just a moment to celebrate with applause and a chant, “HOUSTON STRONG”. It was a goosebumps moment for me and my coworker Jennifer shared later that, at that moment, she too got choked up with a misty eye of joy.”
– Lori Hayes, manager of community volunteerism
“There was something so unique, powerful and special about our experience working in partnership with Rockwell Automation and the United Way of Greater Houston last month to address existing needs fueled by Hurricane Harvey. It was unlike anything I have ever seen before. As I sealed boxes at the end of the line I saw so many familiar faces returning time and time again first with one box of food and then with two.
One volunteer in particular had given over an hour the day before, shortly after he arrived in Houston, to pack meal kits. That next day there he was, giving up his lunch hour to pack again. I smiled as he passed through, sealing his well over 50th box and in the midst of thanking him I said “you know, you’ve probably packed enough for five volunteers!” and he smirked and kindly responded “but it’s not enough and that’s why I have to keep going”.
As he returned to the beginning of the packing line, I froze for a moment, my breath taken aback, and suddenly a moment of clarity for me. He was so right. Sometimes we may feel like what we are doing may never be enough but that’s no reason to give up or abandon the cause, in fact it’s the very reason to keep going. For United We Fight, United We Win.”
– Karissa Gretebeck, manager of corporate volunteerism
“The opportunity to work with Rockwell Automation and the Greater Houston United Way on the Thanksgiving Meal Kit volunteer initiative has been one of the most meaningful experiences in my career. The lead planning team from Rockwell Automation was committed to excellence throughout the entire process and it was rewarding to work with our United Way colleagues in Houston to impact the hurricane recovery efforts. I will always remember when our bus filled with Rockwell volunteers pulled up to the community center to distribute the completed Thanksgiving meal kits; several families and individuals had already arrived. It was the perfect ending to a great collective effort; greeting Houston residents, sharing our wishes for a brighter holiday season, and experiencing their gratitude first-hand”.
– Jayne Thoma, vice president of volunteer engagement