Toyota Material Handling volunteers ‘Lift the Community’

Despite bouts of rain, the second annual ‘Lift the Community Day’ still brought out a lot of volunteers to two dozen nonprofits and other organizations in both Bartholomew and Jackson counties.

The event is sponsored by Toyota Material Handling North America, which has a factory shutdown every July. Shop and office associates can either use a vacation day to do whatever they like, or get paid to volunteer in the community.

All Toyota office associates receive 16 hours of paid volunteer time each year, while shop associates are provide eight hours. “Lift the Community Day” was organized to do the most good for both the Columbus and Seymour area communities.

One of the event’s top coordinators, vice president of human resources Tracy Stachniak, says the rain did delay some of the outdoor projects. However, she anticipates all the planned projects will eventually be accomplished.

The company wanted to prioritize getting those who work on the factory floors out on Friday because the company was not running production, the corporate vice president said.

“For those who can go out on another day, we are going to absolutely send them out,” Stachniak said. “For those who can’t, we’ll bring some volunteer opportunities to our campus. If we run out of volunteer opportunities there, we are going to ask the employee to perform a volunteer job in the community, and pay them for their time.”

The most popular of the 24 different volunteer sites in Bartholomew County was the 131-year-old Crump Theatre, 425 Third St.

Strong support for a Crump resurgence has been building the past couple of years. The latest push has been fueled partly 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’s likely those who had their planned activity rained out decided to head over to the theatre a half-block east of the courthouse.

Some volunteers were painting or discarding old materials, while others took out chairs to be thoroughly cleaned and properly placed in storage, Stachniak said. Extensive deep cleaning was underway from the front exterior all the way to the back of the stage.

To capture the enthusiasm, Stachniak was working with a television cameraman to interview several of the company’s associates to get their impressions about the historic building.

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

But other Toyota employees, such as production control associate Todd Arthurton, preferred a different location.

After talking with a San Souci staff member who visited his workplace, Arthurton wanted to volunteer at the thrift store at 1526 13th St. because it helps disadvantaged local residents achieve 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 wares to those in need. A portion of the funds from the thrift store sales are used to train people so they can rejoin the workforce.

Over at Mill Race Center, regular staff members had plenty of chores for 10 “Lift the Community Day” volunteers to accomplish. The Toyota workers cleaned the interiors and exteriors of vehicles for disabled people, tightened bolts on chairs and rehabilitated outside benches.

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

“We’ve been talking about our families and our home lives,” Thomas said. “I’ve gotten to know my co-workers a lot better.”

Those bonds help the co-workers function better as a team after they return to work, she said.

At this time, it’s difficult to assess which projects took place and which were postponed. In one interior location, everyone was a ‘no-show’ during the morning session.

However, a group of five Toyota associates paid no attention to the rain falling on them as they crisscrossed alleys and streets in historic Columbus to pick up litter.