Tuesday, February 11, 2014 4:54 PM
Drug companies join forces, fight hunger
By Olivia Neeley | Times Staff Writer
Nearly 1,000 employees from three Wilson pharmaceutical companies have banded together for a common cause — to make a difference in the lives of those who rely on food from Hope Station.
Two weeks ago, Becton, Dickinson and Co., Merck and Sandoz launched a food drive competition among each other. And officials say it’s the first time the life science companies have collaborated on such a community initiative.
"It’s about businesses giving back to the community,” said James Bircher, BD quality manager who spearheaded the event. "It’s been a very special two weeks for us.”
The massive food drive concludes Wednesday. And Thursday, those companies will tally the food items collected. They will deliver the food to Hope Station Friday.
A few months ago, Bircher reached out to the Rev. Linda Walling, Hope Station’s executive director. He knew community members give a lot during the holiday season. But he wanted to know what month did Hope Station struggle to keep food stocked in their pantry. When Walling told him February is the time they could use a boost, Bircher had an idea.
He reached out to Merck and Sandoz. They quickly got on board with the idea.
"The impetus for us was to challenge other sites to get involved,” Bircher said. Merck and Sandoz employees definitely wanted to participate in collecting food for a vulnerable population, he said.
Bircher said he distributed Hope Station’s statistics to BD employees and also posted those numbers throughout the facility for employees to see. He also distributed The Wilson Times’ photographs and images of November’s quarterly emergency food drive at OIC of Wilson. The Times has documented hunger issues in Wilson County and the region throughout the past year in a series of articles.
"That builds awareness,” Bircher said.
"You could see it in their eyes,” Bircher said about officials from both companies. Bircher said officials from all three plants met, strategized and came up with a competition, which included a point system.
"Competition always brings out a little bit more,” Bircher said. The company that wins the competition will receive an award, which will travel and be on display in the lobby of the winning company.
"The goal for this is to really remind people this is not a one-time deal, but an annual event,” Bircher said about the award. "We want to fill the cupboards for Hope Station every February.”
Bircher said BD decided to hold competitions among their employees as well. He said while BD is fairly new to Wilson and has engaged in other community projects, they want to get even more involved.
"We are really wanting to get out there … and show our support for the community,” he said. "This is one of those ways.”
Officials say the food drive competition not only gives them an opportunity to give back to the community where they live and work in, but it also raises awareness of hunger, poverty and homelessness in Wilson County. Hope Station’s food pantry alone served nearly 2,500 adults and nearly 1,600 children during 2013. More than 128,000 meals were provided through the food pantry, according to new figures by the nonprofit.
Organizations throughout Wilson and beyond continue to see an uptick in those who are in need of food. The demand is higher with the recent cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps. Food pantries and charities are feeling it. About 1.6 million low-income North Carolinians benefit from SNAP, according to a report from the Budget and Tax Center out of Raleigh. Two-thirds of those are families with children.
The report also states that North Carolina ranks fifth among states in food insecurity — or the inability to access food. Wilson County’s overall poverty rate is nearly 25 percent, according to new figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey’s estimates from 2010-2012. For Wilson County’s children under 18, the rate is 39 percent.
POWER IN NUMBERS
Bircher said the food drive gives the companies an opportunity to educate its employees on community issues organizations are tackling each day.
"This can spur things for us in the future,” Bircher said. "Who knows what people will do beyond this food drive?”
Bircher said if one employee decides to continue to give or get involved with an organization after the food drive, then the competition serves another purpose.
"Then we have accomplished something more than food,” Bircher said.
Bircher said when businesses unite to help their communities, change can happen.
"I hope it inspires others,” he said. "There is power in numbers. Who knows where it will lead to next?”
Bircher said while the competition is fun for all three companies, it serves a much a bigger goal.
"Hope station will win,” he said. "We want to fill the shelves.”
©The Wilson Times, Wilson, North Carolina.
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