6 min read / December 13, 2022 / Staff writer
It’s estimated that 10.2 percent of all United States households struggle to provide food year-round and 1 in 6 U.S. children, or nearly 12 million, are living with hunger. These facts have an impact on all of us.
The United Nations’ World Food Programme puts it this way: “Not only do the consequences of not enough — or the wrong — food cause suffering and poor health, they also slow progress in many other areas of development like education and employment.”
Although the impact of hunger crosses age, culture, gender and geographic lines, a study published in Health Affairs, a leading journal of health policy thought and research, found that children suffer the most. Food insecurity — difficulty at any time during the year providing enough food for a household — is associated with increased risks of anemia, cognitive problems, aggression and anxiety, asthma and depression among children, among other risks.
So, it’s not surprising that many Komatsu employees have stepped up to support hunger relief programs in their communities. By helping food banks, soup kitchens, community gardens and other local hunger relief organizations, volunteers like them can make a tangible difference in the drive to stave off hunger.
Komatsu is one of many companies that give back to their communities by helping feed more people, recognizing that satisfying hunger can strengthen the community overall. Komatsu invests in the communities where it operates by focusing resources on three specific areas: education, community development and human services. Hunger touches on all three. Those who are well-nourished perform better at school and at work and also maintain a greater sense of health and well-being.
Groups of Komatsu employees around the country have regularly done their part. They’ve chopped and washed, sorted and packed, served and cleaned up. They’ve helped in a pinch for emergency relief and scheduled shifts at holiday meals.
“Frankly, the need is real and more than a bit shocking,” said Rodney Bull, who volunteers for hunger-relief efforts in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Work being done in Milwaukee and across the nation illustrates Komatsu employees’ commitment to fighting hunger. Komatsu has partnerships with local hunger relief programs that have lasted years and, in some cases, decades.
Bull is among the Komatsu volunteers who support two Milwaukee-based organizations: the Hunger Task Force, which provides a safety net of emergency food to many local food pantries and meal programs, and The Gathering, which regularly convenes teams to serve or prepare meals for those who would otherwise go hungry.
In Illinois, employees based in Peoria help the Midwest Food Bank organizations in Morton and Peoria, whose warehouses supply many local hunger relief organizations.
And in Texas, Longview employees have long supported the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission financially, with food and supplies, and with donations of time. Their efforts help feed people at the Rescue Mission’s homeless shelters.
“Having lived in various countries, some of them developing nations, I have witnessed the effects of hunger in communities," said James Banga, Accounting Manager in Longview. “It feels like the right thing to do to extend a helping hand to members of our community who may be going through temporary adverse life situations as they try to get back on their feet.”
Banga, Bull and others said they feel a sense of satisfaction and gratitude by helping out. They also described learning moments as they became familiar with the scope of hunger in their communities, the people it affects, and the causes behind it.
Brooke Alexy, Komatsu Mining Corp Vice President and General Counsel, said her volunteer experience taught her that healthy food is a critical need. "I know a lot of people think they are doing a good when they donate all those boxes of mac and cheese (don’t get me wrong, I personally love mac and cheese), but healthier foods are what [Hunger Task Force] is really seeking from a donations perspective.”
Patrick Heppe, a Scheduling Planner who volunteers in Peoria, is among many Komatsu volunteers who bring family members along to volunteer events. “My 11-year old son, Jack, attends the events with me. He loves it. Watching him give 110% for all the right reasons makes me very proud.” Heppe also likes the team spirit behind volunteerism. “Doing volunteer work with co-workers creates a special feeling of kinship. It’s super positive.”
Bull, who is Executive Vice President of the North American Region, agrees that volunteer activities are a way to build teams.
When a group gathered in Milwaukee for a leadership development session, Bull decided to bring them to the Hunger Task Force warehouse where Komatsu volunteers packed 640 boxes for distribution to shelters and pantries. “This gave us a chance to do something as a team that had an immediate positive impact on the people in the community that needed it most,” Bull said. “In my view, there is no better team-building opportunity than generating a positive outcome in the community by working together.”
As Bull observed the team packing food, he saw urgency, passion and commitment. He also saw how much people were enjoying themselves — “smiles, fist bumps, good-natured ribbing and hugs. I couldn’t have been happier to be on a team than I was in that moment.”
When the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak led to an unprecedented interruption to food supply chains and increased joblessness, concerns that hunger trends would worsen were met by massive anti-hunger efforts on the part of governments, nonprofit and corporations. Komatsu was part of that effort, joining the effort to support Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund. Komatsu donated $150,000 and provided a 2-for-1 match of employee donations up to $50,000.
From 2020 to 2021, the national rate of food insecurity fell slightly, from 10.5 to 10.2 percent. But the pandemic ended an almost decades-long decline in food insecurity. And there were signs it was on the upswing again even before inflation added new challenges for hungry households and the war in Ukraine interrupted global food supplies.
Komatsu volunteers encourage others to join them in their hunger-relief activities or find others ways to volunteer.
“It provides a healthy boost to your confidence, self-esteem and life satisfaction by doing something good for others,” said Sandra Terry, a volunteer who works in Longview’s Motor Assembly department.
“We never know when we might be in the same position as the ones we are helping, and I would hope there would be someone to help me if I ever need it,” said Treasury Manager Billie Porter, another Longview volunteer.
Komatsu believe it has a social responsibility to the communities in which it operates. Organizations like the Midwest Food Bank, Hiway 80 Rescue Mission, The Gathering and Hunger Task Force revitalize and enrich the neighborhoods surrounding Komatsu facilities where our employees, suppliers, customers and families live and play.