Toyota Material Handling volunteers ‘Lift the Community’

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Despite bouts of rain, the second annual “Lift the Community Day” still drew many volunteers to two dozen nonprofits and other organizations in Bartholomew and Jackson counties.

The event is sponsored by Toyota Material Handling North America, which closes its plant each July. Store and Office Associates can either use a vacation day to do whatever they want or get paid to volunteer in the community.

All Toyota office associates receive 16 hours of paid volunteer time each year, while store associates receive eight hours. “Lift the Community Day” was organized to do as much good as possible for the communities in the Columbus and Seymour area.

One of the event’s main coordinators, vice president of human resources Tracy Stachniak, says the rain has delayed some of the outdoor projects. However, it anticipates that all planned projects will eventually be carried out.

The company wanted to prioritize the exit of those working in factories on Friday because the company was not in production, the company’s vice president said.

“For those who can come out another day, we will absolutely send them,” Stachniak said. “For those who cannot, we will provide volunteer opportunities on our campus. If we run out of volunteer opportunities there, we will ask the employee to do volunteer work in the community and compensate them for their time.

The most popular of Bartholomew County’s 24 different volunteer sites was the 131-year-old Crump Theater at 425 Third St.

Strong support for a Crump resurgence has been building over the past two years. The latest push was fueled in part by the structure making Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered Structures list in 2019. The building has been mostly closed to the general public since 2014.

There were only 20 Toyota associates assigned to the Crump on Friday morning, but a much larger number showed up. It is likely that those who saw their planned activity raining decided to go to the theater half a block east of the courthouse.

Some volunteers were combing or throwing away old materials, while others were pulling out chairs to thoroughly clean them and put them away properly, Stachniak said. A thorough deep cleaning was in progress from the front exterior to the back of the stage.

To capture the excitement, Stachniak was working with a TV cameraman to interview several company associates to get their impressions of the historic building.

“I’ve heard a number of people tell me how cool it is to be part of the Crump Restoration,” Stachniak said. “It’s really special for them. Many feel they are bringing back to life something that was part of their childhood.

But other Toyota employees, like production control associate Todd Arthurton, preferred another location.

After speaking with a San Souci staff member who visited his workplace, Arthurton wanted to volunteer at the thrift store at 1526 13th St. because he helps underprivileged local residents achieve l self-sufficiency. Along with others, he spent his Friday morning helping San Souci staff process donations, stock the floor, and organize donations.

Among other things, San Souci helps provide clothing, related items, and household items to people in need. Part of the funds from thrift store sales are used to train people so they can re-enter the workforce.

At the Mill Race Center, regular staff members had a lot to do for the 10 “Lift the Community Day” volunteers. Toyota workers cleaned the interior and exterior of handicapped vehicles, tightened chair bolts and rehabilitated outdoor benches.

Katina Thomas, who works with Toyota’s digital experience group, says corporate community efforts help colleagues form stronger bonds outside of the workplace.

“We talked about our families and our lives at home,” Thomas said. “I got to know my colleagues better.”

These connections help co-workers function better as a team after they return to work, she said.

At present, it is difficult to assess which projects have taken place and which have been postponed. In an indoor location, everyone was a “no-show” during the morning session.

However, a group of five Toyota associates paid no heed to the rain falling on them as they roamed the alleys and streets of historic Columbus picking up trash.

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