Since Essendant’s founding, charitable work has been an important component of the company. The Essendant Charitable Foundation provides outlets for our associates to serve communities in need around the world. Through the Foundation, Essendant started an annual Global Giving trip, in which a team of associates are selected for a week-long service and learning project. All employees are eligible to apply for this service trip.
In November of 2018, the Global Giving group traveled domestically for the first time, helping with the long-term response to Hurricane Harvey and other community needs throughout Texas. Essendant Charitable Foundation board member Meg Dolan led the 2018 trip, and documented her experience here:
I’ve been a member of the foundation board for many years, but only recently joined the Global Giving team, which is responsible for selecting the destination and team for the annual trips. Each year, the travelers describe their experiences as “life changing.” You can’t fully understand what “life changing” means until you’ve experienced it, but now I have — and I get it.
World Vision organized a thoughtful experience for our team this year in Texas, giving us the opportunity to help and support people who needed our assistance. The facility we visited in Dallas supports the state of Texas and a large portion of the United States, including the Californians affected by recent wildfires.
Day 1: World Vision Dallas Warehouse, Disaster and Services Preparation
When we arrived at World Vision’s distribution center in Dallas, we learned about the organization and its focus on children living in poverty. World Vision offers support through numerous programs, recognizing that helping families helps children. The Dallas facility is one of the largest World Vision locations, serving a territory that extends beyond Texas and covers much of the southern United States.
World Vision provides support directly by shipping products to those in need and indirectly through partners. One partner began serving her community from a car, expanded to a minivan and finally to an 18-wheeler! The partners we met really helped us understand how the products we distribute are used in communities to help children and the homeless. We prepared shipments of mixed goods for the California wildfires, Hurricane Florence and our school visits the following day.
Day 2: Mobile Teacher Resource Center Delivery
World Vision offers a Teacher Resource Center (TRC) in most of its facilities. Teachers from qualifying schools can “shop” in the TRC for basic classroom supplies and food items, which are free. Teachers can then provide supplies to students in need.
Dallas is a long way from many rural areas in Texas, and thus the Mobile TRC was born. The Mobile TRC is a 20-foot trailer stocked full of school supplies. Our team drove into rural communities and stopped at three schools, where teachers were literally lining up to “shop.” Teachers screamed in glee as they climbed into the trailer to pick out their supplies. A few members of our team helped the teachers pick out and load up their goodies.
We also had team members deliver backpacks directly to children. Many of our teammates had supplied backpacks through the Essendant Charitable Foundation’s backpack program, but they’d never had the opportunity to put the bag directly into a child’s hands. The kids were excited about the bags, and even more excited to learn they were packed with supplies. Many teammates said this day was the most rewarding because of the direct impact they had on a child.
Day 3: Partners in Time of Need
We traveled to the World Vision Houston distribution center. This facility opened after Hurricane Harvey and is focused entirely on Harvey support. World Vision stays in the area well after other organizations have moved on, understanding that recovery can take years.
We met Lizzie Toran and her son, Marcus. Lizzie really had an impact on us. She lost everything to Harvey. After a year, Lizzie does not have heat, plumbing or even a mattress. She had insurance, but only received $24 from her insurance company. Lizzie was so positive even though she lost everything. World Vision replaced her roof and there were some plumbing fixtures available that would help address some of her other needs.
Our last stop was to help a family whose house of 40 years had been flooded with four feet of water. They’d been living in temporary housing, but World Vision’s partner Bayou City Relief is rebuilding their home. We broke into teams and helped progress this project by hanging drywall in the living room, painting walls and more. Everyone readily jumped in, and our four hours of work moved the project almost a week forward in repairs. It was dirty, gritty, dusty work… and it was awesome! Most of us agreed this was our favorite experience because we really felt like we made a difference and personally met the people benefitting from our efforts.
Day 4: Understanding Long-Term Recovery
We traveled to Beaumont and Vidor, communities nearly destroyed by Harvey. In Vidor, we met “Skipper” Sauls with Wings of Promise. Skipper, with the support of his church, family and volunteers, has rebuilt 18 houses and plans to rebuild 27 more. Skipper drove us through neighborhoods that, from the outside, look normal. But looks are deceiving — the houses do not have any drywall. Families are living in one room in the house or in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers on the property.
In Beaumont, Pastor Jerry Haynes and Bishop Sammy Nash drove us around, sharing stories about the flooding and the emotional toll of the storms. Both men said fixing souls is almost more important than fixing houses. The people we met today are so invested in their community, supporting not only people’s physical needs, but also their emotional and mental needs.
Day 5 – Houston Food Bank – Long-Term Food Insecurities
The Houston Food Bank is the largest Food Bank in America. It provides food to 18 counties in southeast Texas, feeding 800,000 people annually. The food is donated from local distributors, grocery stores and farmers, with numerous partners and volunteers helping get food to those in need.
Our team was assigned to the Emergency Food Pantry. The Pantry is set up like a grocery store and provides food to working families. Our team helped stock shelves in preparation for the arrival of “shoppers.” The food bank opened our eyes to the role that volunteers and partner charities play in food redistribution. We all expressed interest in learning more about our local food bank and getting more involved.
This trip inspired us to do more locally to help those in need, especially the children. Now, none of us will view a wildfire or hurricane disaster quite the same. And we now realize the significant impact of donations and organizations like World Vision.
We also learned that a team of people, even if they are completely different, can accomplish so much more than an individual working alone. It got me thinking about Essendant’s resources and the impact our network and community of resellers could have on programs like Global Giving. Our resellers are exposed to a vast assortment of products valuable to those in need, including furniture, sanitation supplies and food.
As a small team on this trip, we helped make a difference, getting supplies to people much faster than they or we could have alone. Imagine what we could do if we inspired more teams within our network to do more and give more? This trip was rewarding, humbling and, yes, life changing. I’m excited at all the possibilities for Essendant moving forward.
Learn more about what Essendant offers its employees here.
By Meg Dolan Director, Business Integration, Essendant