story by Jamie Smith
When most people think of a common thread that runs throughout an entire corporate culture, the word generosity probably isn’t the first that comes to mind. That is not necessarily the case, however, when it comes to the Northwest Arkansas Wal-Mart supplier community.
The supplier culture has a tradition of helping others; of improving the lives is the community. Thousands, if not millions, of dollars are donated to no-profit organizations every year to fund their any programs. Another form of generosity is also common among the suppliers and that’s donating their time and talents.
Volunteerism takes on many different forms within the supplier community from entire teams volunteering at a specific event as a team-building exercise to individuals giving their time away from their jobs to help the community.
Volunteering in our community is a source of pride for the Nestlé Walmart Team,” said Ginger Brooks, director of strategic marketing initiatives for the Nestle Walmart Team. “Many of our team members are new to the area and volunteering helps them to learn about the community – and it also gives them a way to get involved locally.”
Brooks said the Nestle team has volunteered with a variety of organizations in the local community including the Samaritan Community Center, the Rogers Humane Society and the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter. The work at each location varies on the individual organization’s needs and has ranged from walking dogs to packing Snak Paks for school children.
“We work with each organization to understand their individual needs and how we might be able to help,” she said.
With thousands of organizations in the area, it can be difficult for companies to decide which ones they want to support. Often the decision is made based on corporate community goals and through discussing the issue with employees.
“Three years ago we surveyed our team and asked them about their interests in the community, completed a community needs assessment and looked at our corporate strategies,” Brooks said. “This guided us to programs that help feed the hungry, promote learning and Nutrition, Health and Wellness for children, and impacted the well-being of pets.”
Brooks agreed that it is important for local businesses and vendors to be involved in charitable giving of time and resources.
“Our community has such a giving population and there are so many ways to get involved, whether it’s raising awareness for local issues, fundraising to help community organizations, or simply giving of your time,” she said.
The Christian values that permeates throughout the CCF Brands company helps drive the company’s mission of improving lives through quality food. The company donates eggs to several organizations and employees are active volunteers at locations including the 7 Hills Homeless Shelter, Samaritan Community Center and the Cobblestone Farm.
“It was a natural thing for us,” said Scott Page, chief catalyst. “Eggs provide you with so much protein and for us to provide protein for people in need in Northwest Arkansas was just an incredible opportunity.
“Everything that we do is to improve the life of people.”
Page said he grew up in the region and that it became a great place because of entrepreneurs.
“We continue to be great because the people who are moving in here desire to make it a great place and are continuing to make it a greater place,” he said. “Suppliers who are moving in from all over the world are making Northwest Arkansas a better place.”
Page said that the supplier community comes together to help take care of the needs of the area from the Samaritan Community Center to the Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter and everything in between.
“There’s always goings to be a need. We need to find out where they are and help out as much as we can,” he said.
Mark Mast is a business planning manager for General Mills and the lead community involvement team leader. He said that the local General Mills team tries to provide many volunteer opportunities for the employees, including projects they can do with their family members. There are other times that the projects have a team focus that allows the co-workers to build camaraderie while serving others.
“It lets them get away from the office and give back to the community all while getting to know each other better,” he said.
General Mills often works with the local United Way and the associated community partners to find projects. Sometimes it’s a short-term project, other times the employees are sharing their knowledge and expertise. For example, they recently worked with leaders from the various United Way charities to provide training in Excel, thus teaching better efficiency. Other projects have included working with the Children’s Shelter and the Boy’s and Girl’s Club.
“Our corporate motto means making people’s lives better and richer,” he said. “What we do every day and how we do it is important to us. Our leadership here is very supportive of us taking time from our schedules to give back and (the employees) are still willing to put in the hours to complete a project with excellence. They feel like they are making a difference in the community where they live.”
While corporate financial donations are important, Mast said employees being able to donate their time helps them feel more connected with the cause.
“People want to help and find out more about what (the organizations) do,” he said. “They become more invested in the organizations.”
Frequently, there are members of the supplier community who get involved with a charitable organization through their company but then they take a personal interest once they learn more about the organization’s mission. For example, many boards of directors of local nonprofits have members who are employed in the supplier community.
Jeff Harsh is a team leader for The Hershey Company. The Hershey team has been involved with the Children’s Shelter for three years and when his family relocated to Bentonville a year ago, he learned about the organization as did his family. Harsh now serves on the shelter board.
“We quickly became passionate about supporting it,” he said. “The shelter’s mission is to provide a safe haven, high-quality care and hope for the future to children who have been abandoned, abused or neglected really resonated with my wife and me. We knew this was a cause we wanted to support and promote.”
The Bentonville Hershey team actively also volunteers with The Boy’s and Girl’s Club, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Cancer Challenge, American Heart Association, Mercy Hospital, The United Way, The First Tee, he said.
“In my opinion, giving back is additive to the corporate experience for any employee,” he said. “I think it helps to add to the employee’s a sense of connection to their community and helps build a stronger team at the office.”