MANY of the not-for-profit organizations in Columbus spend a lot of effort on projects that raise money to keep them in business.
Then there are those rare times when an organization is handed large sums of money by donors who literally walk in off the street.
The staff at Love Chapel will experience that sensation sometime in the coming weeks when a small group of Cummins Inc. employees will walk into the food pantry and hand over a check for $25,280.
Last year that same group dropped off a check for $18,000; the year before it was $14,700; the year before that it was $8,800.
The Cummins employees aren’t on Love Chapel’s board of directors. Heck, they aren’t even volunteers.
But every year since 2006 they’ve organized a small army of other volunteers to stage a car show in the parking lot of Cummins’ CEP — still known to us old-timers as Plant One — for fellow employees and company retirees.
That’s where all the money has come from.
According to one of the organizers — Darrell Smallwood, a Cummins retiree now living in Russell Springs, Ky. — it all started during a depressed business cycle for the engine manufacturer.
“Things had slowed down and employee morale was pretty low at that point,” Darrell recalled. “We were constantly looking for ways to raise the spirits of the workers. One day we had a fish fry. Another, we had all the employees bring in their childhood photos.”
Darrell, who only recently had been moved up to a supervisory position after serving 30 years as a line worker, encouraged his team to be creative in coming up with projects that could take their minds off the economic downturn.
“Dave McIntosh was really into cars, and he suggested that we stage a car show in the parking lot,” he remembered. “We would limit it to Cummins employees in our area.”
It took a lot more effort than rustling up a fish fry or passing around baby photos. Word had to be spread among the departments asking employees to bring in their vehicles for a show and tell.
Then someone suggested that the car show might serve another purpose — perhaps help out a worthy organization.
“We talked about various ideas but in the end it really came down to everybody agreeing on Love Chapel,” said Steve Coffman, another member of the original group who now is a senior quality engineer with the company.
Just friends and cars
The first show was an informal affair. Workers showing their cars and guests were asked to bring some non-perishable food items that could be given to the pantry. Cash donations were also welcome.
“I think we had 90 cars that first year,” Darrell said. “The funny thing is that the number of cars on display has stayed pretty much the same. This year, for instance, we had just over 100. However, there are always 30 or so new cars each year.”
What changed was the scope of the show. In the second year the invitation list was expanded to all other units in Plant One. Someone also suggested it would be a great opportunity to involve Cummins retirees, bringing back former workers to look at the cars but mostly to reunite with those they had once worked alongside.
That lifted the attendance and the amount of foodstuffs that had to be delivered to the pantry.
“We decided to simplify things after that, so we suggested that people make a cash donation instead of the food, and we could give the money directly to Love Chapel.”
In 2008 the car show entered another phase.
“We decided to make it a challenge for other units at Plant One,” Steve Coffman said. “We asked each of them to match the amount of money we raised at the show. A lot of them did just that.”
Another money-raising innovation was introduced by Debbie Liming, who proposed that meals be sold to those attending the shows for $5. It turned out to be $5 clear for Love Chapel, because all the supplies were paid for out of the department’s budget.
$25,280 would seem to be at the top of the mountain for such an endeavor, but the original team has other plans in mind.
“We’re going to open this challenge to all the Cummins units throughout Southern Indiana,” Steve said.
The annual visits of the group with the donation money still amaze Elizabeth Kestler, executive director of the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County churches, which oversees Love Chapel.
“It really is a grass roots effort that was started by a handful of workers who thought Love Chapel would be a good place to support,” she said. “It’s still completely unexpected, and it’s become one of our major sources of income.”
Steve Coffman credits the company for creating the environment in which employees would be encouraged into supporting community efforts.
“This is in keeping with the company’s philosophy of ‘every employee in every community,’” he said. “This is really a wonderful place to work.”
Darrell Smallwood shares that attitude in large part because of his own background.
In 2002 he completed 30 years as a line worker and was advanced to a managerial position, a post he held until his retirement two years ago.
“I still remember applying for a job with Cummins in 1972,” he said. “I applied for a job as restroom janitor.”
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or by email at email@example.com.