You learn a lot about your co-workers when you sort onions with them. You learn how fast they move. You learn how much weight they can lift. But mostly, you learn if they like onions.

IMG_0436Fifteen INB employees recently took part in United Way’s Day of Action, which included re-packaging onions. Our team, along with several Heartland Credit Union staff, were assigned to the Central Illinois Foodbank in Springfield. We didn’t begin the afternoon on onion duty. We earned the job by quickly completing the tasks the Food Bank staff had set aside for us.

Our INB team has a way of working very quickly and efficiently, always allowing United Way agency staff supervisors to do some quick thinking as to what a team of our size can do for an hour or two once the main mission is accomplished. One year, our extra time allowed us to clean out a kangaroo cage at the Henson C. Robinson Zoo. Another time it meant extra trips to the wood chip pile by park district personnel. The next outing it simply meant we were able to not only put wood chips down on a path at the YMCA Lake Camp, but we also made good headway cleaning up the lodge and painting picnic tables so everything would be ready for summer campers.

IT Support Analyst Tiffany Baker says Team INB’s pace all comes down to teamwork, noting her colleagues work very well together, all looking for ways to shave time from a task. For example, Tiffany has used her own truck to make it easier to move wood chips from point A to point B. She adds, “We all work together as a team for a good cause.”

Central Illinois Foodbank’s Mission Larger than Most Realized

group-webTo understand the cause, the team was given a tour of the Central Illinois Food Bank before going to work. Tiffany says, “I was not aware that the food bank only distributes to other agencies and not individuals. They distribute many more items than I always had in my mind. I always thought they only took dry or canned goods. It was nice to know the amount of toiletries, produce, dairy and other cold store items they distribute as well.”

Steve Miller, vice president Client Services, says hearing about the Food Bank’s coverage area was new to him. They serve 21 counties in Central Illinois, providing food to almost 50 agencies in Sangamon County alone. “It was good to see how they operate, along with how important they are in supporting organizations and people in need.”

Sarah Stahly, client services CRM coordinator, was also impressed by the size of the operation. She quickly learned how much they need volunteers. “Before this,” she says, “their needs weren’t as obvious to me, I guess, as other non-profits.”

She adds she’s happy to be part of the Day of Action. “No matter how busy I’ve been, how tough things have seemed, the Day of Action always makes me feel so proud to work at an organization that encourages volunteering! It really means a lot to me to be able to volunteer for agencies that need it, during work time, with co-workers, bonding and making local agency employees happy.”

Lifelong Memories Made in an Afternoon

The team’s task for the day was to open and sort boxes and boxes and boxes of items donated by a drug store into four main categories: Food, Candy, Paper Products and Toys. Most boxes had some of each. As Candee Arvin, a universal banker at our North Branch, explained it, “I had a lot of fun opening the boxes; it was like Christmas.”

We checked expiration dates. We learned how damaged a can could be and still be salvageable. We threw away medicines, but not vitamins. We started several other categories: pet supplies, baby food and everything else. We learned the “everything else” — clothing and crutch and cane supplies – are offered to agencies when they pick up food.

Once the 7-foot high pallets of boxes were opened and sorted, we headed to a main storage room to wash walls and tape windows and doors for the football team expected on Sunday to paint the room.

Then came the onions. The job was so big we couldn’t complete it in our remaining hour. But we did our best, sorting, tossing and packaging onions. Sarah says she learned that 60 onions would make 10 pounds.

Gina Diel, vice president and loan administration officer, replied to a couple of our questions this way:

  • What was your favorite part of the afternoon? “Onions, of course.”
  • What do you think you’ll remember about the experience 10 years from now? “Onions, of course.”

No one could hide how they spent the afternoon. Candee says, “The second I walked in the house, my other half asked me why I smelled like onions and dish soap!!”

But with thoughts of smell and dirt aside, Gina summed it up: “The experience gives you a sense of accomplishment and gratification in knowing that you have helped an agency that helps so many others.”