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Cook ‘Elves’ Bring Magic to Christmas in June Food Drive

by on July 5, 2018
Generous Cook Plant employees donated 10,876 items to local food pantries June 20.

(Story by Bill Downey)

There’s something to be said for Christmas magic. We look for it every December and somehow, some way, it always shines through.

But this year, thanks to the help of a whole bunch of Cook Nuclear Plant “elves,” that same magic appeared June 20. A magic that will benefit all of Michigan’s Great Southwest. That’s when the United Way of Southwest Michigan delivered approximately 20,000 items to local food pantries, boosted by the 10,876 items provided by the generous donations of Cook employees.

But let’s back up. It’s important first to understand the need and the circumstances.

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, hardworking families with very few options.

After receiving requests from several local food pantries that were running low on summer supplies last year, 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. The help that came was overwhelming. So they repeated the call in 2018. And like last year, Cook led the way in responding  by once again supplying over half of the total of donated items to help refill the food pantries of Berrien and Cass counties in Michigan.

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.

But it wasn’t easy. Cook was just coming out of a long refueling outage when the call for help came this year. And for a while, the cupboards (and the donation boxes) stayed bare.

“We were really getting nervous for a while, there,” said Nuclear Fuels Group Senior Administrative Assistant Jamie Kraft, who was the project leader for the Cook drive. “People were still in ‘outage mode’ and response was slow. But just like a Christmas miracle, the donations came pouring in near the end and we broke all of our records from last year. The Cook folks came through again. They always do. It was amazing!”

In addition to the donations, about 30 individuals from Cook stepped up to assist in the loading, transporting, sorting and delivery of the United Way’s total haul to all the very appreciative food pantries.

“This has been such a tremendous blessing,” said Pastor Jann Mitchell of the Faith Victory Fellowship Church Food Pantry in Buchanan, Michigan. “It will help us feed people through the summer months. Without it, summertime would be very difficult to get through. We are so appreciative of the United Way and all the people who have helped make this possible.”

Pastor Mitchell also received a $220 bonus check for the pantry from Design Engineering Director Jim Petro on behalf of a group of Cook Engineering leaders who, through a special craft beer brewing project (also a United Way fundraiser), collected $1 from every pint of beer they sold as an additional donation to the cause.

“Leave it to the engineers to turn beer into food!” Jim quipped. “But in all seriousness, words aren’t big enough to describe what the Cook team did this year. The goal for us was 100 food items for each of 19 different categories; 1,900 items. We brought in almost 11,000 items. We are helping to ensure that our neighbors won’t go hungry this summer. That’s pretty humbling.”

Indeed it is. Congratulations, Cook Team. And thank you.

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