Sometimes all it takes is a good idea and a little follow-through to make a big difference in one’s community.
Just ask Tobi Conroy, an administrative assistant with Lippert Components Inc. (LCI/Kinro) in Goshen, Ind., who’s recent call to CEO Jason Lippert sparked a companywide campaign that brought hundreds of blankets and numerous jobs to the homeless at Faith Mission of Elkhart, The Goshen News reported.
“It actually first started when we had those really frigid temperatures during a couple days in early February,” Conroy said. “I’d been watching on the news how the local shelters were just filled to capacity, and they didn’t have enough blankets or beds to go around. It just touched my heart.”
So as she was driving to work, Conroy decided to contact Lippert and ask him if he would be OK with her starting up a blanket drive at some of the company’s facilities.
“He said that’s a no-brainer, of course go ahead and do it,” Conroy said. “So I did, and we just collected hundreds and hundreds of blankets.”
In the meantime, Conroy contacted Kirt’s Cleaners, which offered to clean all of the used blankets for free.
Not wanting to stop there, Conroy decided to contact Michiana Mattress, part of LCI/Kinro’s mattress division, to see if the company would be able to contribute anything to the cause.
“We talked, and they were able to donate five mattress sets to the shelter,” Conroy said. “So it’s just gone fantastic.”
While Lippert’s month-long blanket campaign came to a close on March 12, that doesn’t signal the end of the company’s partnership with Faith Mission.
In fact, the company recently decided to expand its outreach further by offering to employ several of the Mission’s homeless clientele — again at the urging of Conroy.
“I went to the shelter and met with their development director, Mike Perez, and basically toured the shelter and spoke to him about all of the services they provide,” Conroy said. “In my mind, I just kind of pictured it as a place where people crash for the night, and then leave in the morning, and that’s not it at all. They offer people food, clothing, counseling, life skills coaching, and some people actually live there and basically learn to live on their own again. It’s pretty amazing.”
Inspired by what she saw, Conroy returned to work with another idea — why not go beyond fundraising and actually offer some of these people a job?
“When I got back to work, I spoke to our plant manager and said ‘you know, we hire people from work release, from all different races and backgrounds, so what do you think of offering some of these people jobs’? And he said ‘absolutely, lets do it,’” Conroy said. “So I contacted Mike on Feb. 24 and sent him over an application form, and by the next day 12 people were in orientation and had started employment by the 28th.”
And there’s no special treatment, Conroy said. The new hires are doing everything that a typical worker would do at the Kinro plant, which specializes in the production of windows and trim rings for the recreational vehicle industry.
“Some are sealing the windows, some are washing the glass, some are bending — just a number of different things,” Conroy said, noting that as of the end of last week everyone hired from the Mission still had their jobs. “To my knowledge, nobody has lost their job, nobody has been fired, and they’re working hard.”
According to Perez, hearing of that work ethic is not surprising, as many of the people he works with at the Mission have been willing and able to work for months, but just haven’t been able to catch a break.
“It was a very nice surprise hearing that Lippert wanted to see if anyone was interested in applying,” Perez said. “A real nice surprise. While it may not be more important than the blanket contributions, it gives a lot more hope. It kind of helped boost the morale around here, which right now we really needed.”
Perez said the community support — such as the recent contributions by Lippert — are vitally important to the continued operation of the Mission and the services it provides.
And for an organization that provides clothing, shelter, hygiene products and over 200,000 meals a year to area homeless, it’s not hard to understand why.
“There’s no way we could do what we do without that assistance,” Perez said. “We live off of individual support, family donations, etc. We need in a lot of ways corporate support as well, and in partnering with them, then they become more aware of our needs, so then down the road it will just be a benefit all around.
“We’re excited about our partnership with Lippert, and if there are other companies in the community that are interested in helping out, we’ll gladly take their call,” he said.
“I would hope that some of the other large companies in the area would take notice, because they have the capability to reach out as well,” Conroy said. “Many of us are so fortunate, and sometimes I feel like we’ve taken that for granted.
“These are smart, hard-working people who needed to catch a break, and I’m just glad we were able to give it to them.”