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January 2022

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California Local Delivers
Thanksgiving Feasts to Families in Need

John McEntagart sounds like a general — a decidedly cheerful one — as he reels off the who, where and how of feeding more than 1,000 people in Sonoma County, Calif. on Thanksgiving.

"I'm heading right now to our first stop today. Want to make sure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed," the Santa Rosa, Calif. Local 551 Business Manager says almost breathlessly Wednesday morning, Nov. 24, as he lays out his game plan for the next 24 hours.

"In about an hour we're picking up 100 meals, full turkeys with all the sides, each one feeds six to eight people … picking them up at a grocery store, Raley's, in Windsor, and driving them north to Healdsburg. Half are going there for a drive-thru pickup. The other half, we're loading in volunteers' cars and they'll drive them to families' houses. And tomorrow… ."

By which McEntagart meant the holiday itself, when he and IBEW volunteers would pick up and distribute a fresh round of meals — enough to feed another 365 people, including teenagers and young adults in a foster youth program at Santa Rosa Junior College.

A restaurant would prepare the young people's meals; families would need only to warm the cooked turkeys and trimmings and set the table.

Local 551 ran the operation on a smaller scale in 2020 and picked up the entire tab. McEntagart said they set the same goal in 2021 — 50 full turkey dinners — but NECA partners came aboard and allowed them to double their efforts. Except for desserts donated by Raley's, the labor-management committee funded it all.

Organizers also had hands-on help from community volunteers and civic leaders, who were essential to creating a list of recipients. Many were families who'd fallen on hard times during the pandemic.

"John reached out and said, 'We have dinners we'd like to donate to people in need. Can you find 50 families?'" said Healdsburg City Council member Ariel Kelley, who met McEntagart at a labor-candidate training event in 2020.

"I said, 'John, I could find you 500 families by tomorrow, the need is so great.'"

IBEW members happily pitched in, inspired by their business manager's energy and spirit, and their local's tradition of giving back year-round.

"It's like John is the Thanksgiving Santa Claus," fourth-year apprentice wireman Leah Edwards said a few days after the whirlwind events. "He would make trips nonstop all day. It's obviously a challenge and a huge endeavor. I knew I wanted to be part of it."

McEntagart is quick to say he couldn't have done it alone, thanking his many volunteer elves and the invaluable aid of business representatives Joe Tremaine and Jared Mumm.

Edwards worked a midday shift at a drive-thru site on Thanksgiving, checking off cars while her 14-year-old daughter prepared their own family's multi-generation meal.

"A lot of families had small children with them," she said. "There was an overall feeling of gratitude and maybe relief, because they didn't have to worry how they were going to give their kids a nice family dinner."

Joe Cimino, a past member of the local's executive board and project manager at R. McClure Electric Inc., hauled the boxed turkeys and trimmings from Raley's to various hubs in one of his company's flatbed trucks.

"Pretty much every single person was super happy and appreciative — 'Thank you, thank you,'" he said, though he also could feel the effects of nearly two years of social distancing.

"Because of COVID, it wasn't as personable as you'd think. Some people were hesitant in their interactions," Cimino said. "But they definitely had big smiles on their faces."

The surge of families in need in Sonoma County, 90 minutes north of San Francisco, is another casualty of the pandemic.

"Unfortunately, in our community we have a lot of workers who are not unionized. We saw so many of them left in the lurch," Kelley said, citing the region's vineyards, wine-making operations, and hospitality sector, all hit hard by the shutdown.

While jobs and tourism are springing back, the councilwoman said, "People have been economically devastated, and when you're in an economic hole, it doesn't go away overnight."

IBEW locals don't do good deeds for the publicity but Local 551's efforts made a splash anyway, from a story in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat to social media.

Kelley posted a photo online that pictured her and other volunteers at a distribution site in front of an IBEW banner. "That got shared an insane amount of times," she said.

She also encountered curiosity about the union while delivering IBEW-marked food boxes to individual homes.

"It lit up people's lives — little faces coming to the window peering out at us, tears of joy, knowing they were going to have a feast," Kelley said. "When they saw the insignia they'd ask, 'What is IBEW?' And we got to tell them who the IBEW is and what they represent."



Union and community volunteers helped Santa Rosa, Calif., Local 551 distribute full Thanksgiving dinners to families in need. Christmas meals were next on the list, said Business Manager John McEntagart, pictured bottom left with his wife.

Newfoundland and Labrador Local
Donates $30,000 to Afghan Refugees

An Afghan refugee family will soon be the recipient of a very generous donation from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Local 1620.

"This is an excellent example of the spirit of the IBEW and its commitment to be not just the best electrical workers but true community partners," said International First District Vice President Thomas Reid. "I couldn't be prouder of Local 1620 and their compassion toward the Afghan people who can now call Canada home."

The Afghan refugees, 116 of whom landed in St. John's in late October, were forced to flee their homeland when the Taliban overtook the government last summer. The majority worked with Canadian and NATO partners as translators or embassy staff and as a result of this work, they and their families have been targeted by the Taliban.

"As we are aware, during the course of the war against tyranny in Afghanistan, extremely brave and principled Afghan people chose to stand up and work cooperatively with Canadian and NATO-led efforts to create security, to help educate children, including girls, to build infrastructure to improve the quality of life within Afghanistan and to bring greater social justice to everyone in that country," Gerry Byrne, minister of immigration, population growth and skills said in a statement. "They did so knowing that this would place them in direct harm's way from those who opposed these efforts."

The Association for New Canadians, a refugee resettlement organization, has been helping the families get settled. And due to the benevolence of the community, they have been flooded with donations, including more items like clothing and furniture than they know what to do with.

"Even before the doors opened, there was a lineup of cars in the parking lot and there has been every day that we've been open. … I don't recall ever having experienced anything like this before," Alice Keough, the association's community connections coordinator, told the CBC.

But the CA$30,000 donation from Local 1620 stands out as particularly significant because it could potentially take care of an entire family of four for the next year.

"It may take someone years to raise the amount of money to sponsor family members," Megan Morris, executive director of the ANC, told the CBC. "This money will mean that [process] is expedited completely and can be put in place almost immediately."

The Local 1620 membership has done very well over the past number of years because of the Lower Churchill Project, a massive hydroelectric job that employed some 1,400 members in the province. After seeing a news story on television about Afghan refugees coming to Newfoundland and Labrador, Jeff Fahey, an executive board member, called Business Manager Don Murphy with the suggestion to help. So, they brought in the ANC for a presentation and the board approved the contribution.

"Local 1620 members are ecstatic about having made such a generous donation," Murphy said. "The Afghan people need help as did Canadians when they were in Afghanistan. And the ANC needed funding to support the Afghan people. It's not a hand out, it's a hand up."

The money came from earnings from general revenues, Murphy said, including the funds received from the Lower Churchill Project, which are strategically invested by Local 1620. Currently, the local's membership stands at around 570 members who work in outside construction, utility and building maintenance.

Those investment revenues allow Local 1620 to effectively operate as well as give them the ability to make such a gift to the ANC. That said, this is the first time they've given such a substantial amount.

"We have made donations before, certainly, but nothing of this magnitude," Murphy said.

While they didn't do it for the attention, Murphy says they are nevertheless thankful for the spotlight their local has gotten.

"We're just trying to elevate who we are, what we do and how we can be the union of choice in this province," Murphy said.

There's also a need for more workers that could potentially be aided by the influx of new Canadians.

"If we can assist immigration then immigration can assist labour and help address the shortage of workers in the province," Murphy said.

At the end of the day though, Murphy says the donation was the right thing to do for the right reason — helping those in need.

"They're starting a new life. They've landed on a new land, in a new country, on a new continent, so I can't even imagine what that must feel like," Murphy said.


St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Local 1620 donated CA$30,000 to an organization helping refugees resettle from Afghanistan. The funds should be enough to help a family of four for about one year.