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Cook ‘Makes it Snow’ for Christmas in June Food Drive

by on July 11, 2017
Volunteers from Cook Nuclear Plant and United Way staff celebrate Cook’s successful drive to help refill local food pantries.

(Story by Ashlie M. Guyberson)

Sometimes, you need a little snow in June. This past June 21 was a day for action, a day for community, and a day for dreams coming true with some much-needed summer snow thanks to Cook Plant.

As in many communities, the local food pantries in Southwest Michigan often see themselves fully stocked in the winter months when charity tends to peak. However when summer hits and winter supplies run out, those same food pantries find it challenging to keep shelves stocked, leaving low-income, hard-working families with very few options.

After receiving requests from several local food pantries that were running low on summer supplies, the United Way of Southwest Michigan (UWSM) organized a “Christmas in June” Day of Action to collect as many of those much-needed supplies as possible. They reached out to local businesses asking for help, and help they received! Thirty-seven local businesses, including AEP’s Cook Plant, answered the call to refill the food pantries of Berrien and Cass counties in Michigan.

In conjunction with their 75th anniversary in operation, the UWSM Team asked businesses to collect items in groups of 75 during the month leading up to the June 21 Day of Action. Wish list items included household necessities like laundry soap, toothbrushes and deodorant, as well as non-perishable staples like flour, sugar, and even ramen noodles. With that list in hand, Nuclear Fuels Group Administrative Assistant Jamie Kraft and Nuclear Specialists Cathy Deau and Joe Tanko immediately took the lead for Cook and put out the call to the site to start bringing in items. And the response came fast and furious from all areas of the organization.

“It’s overwhelming the amount of support Cook and AEP folks give by jumping right in to support our community,” Deau said. “Jamie, Joe and I coordinated the campaign by sending emails to our co-workers encouraging them to donate. And they really came through.”

Soon, the number of items began to pile up, along with a little friendly competition between departments and business groups.

Jim Petro, Design Engineering director, was extremely vocal encouraging employees at Cook’s Buchanan facility to step up and support the effort. Ted Dey, Design Engineering supervisor, echoed Jim’s encouragement and issued a challenge offering a pizza party to the department collecting the most items. With that incentive, a small subgroup of the Design Engineering Department of just eight people, led by Designer Supervisor Mike Richards, brought in over 2,000 items, winning the challenge, and bringing Cook’s Buchanan Office contributions to over 4,500 items alone.

That’s when Deau revealed she had a dream of collecting 7,500 items in honor of the United Way’s 75th anniversary. Could it really happen?

Counting the items the day before the event, Deau and Kraft got goosebumps when they realized how close they were: 7,200 items. Not quite there. So Deau asked if anyone in the immediate counting area wanted to pitch in some extra cash to help buy the remaining 300 items. The money came, a store run took place, and Deau’s dream became a reality.

Charlotte Rogers, coordinator for the United Way of Southwest Michigan, praised all the folks at Cook Plant for their support of the campaign.

“AEP and the folks at Cook are amazing,” she said. “All of this wouldn’t be possible without them. Their overall support, organization, and willingness to help are just incredible. Jamie, Cathy, and Joe were great leaders, AND cheerleaders.”

“We were just so overwhelmed with how Cook Plant stepped up,” Kraft said of her co-leaders and co-workers. “In the end, we were shocked – but maybe not necessarily surprised — to find out that Cook contributed half of what all 37 business organizations collected combined.”

Overall, those 37 businesses collected more than 15,000 items that went to 23 different food pantries in Berrien and Cass Counties in Southwest Michigan.

A merry Christmas in June? “Snow big deal…”

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