Bringing holiday cheer to children and families in need is IBEW tradition, as our kindnesses all year long. Here are three stories of the countless ways that locals across the United States and Canada spread good will in their communities over the 2021 holiday season.
They like to think outside the box at Albuquerque, N.M. Local 611, as a TV news live shot illustrated to perfection over the holidays.
|Interviewed live on KOAT-TV in Albuquerque, Business Manager Pete Trujillo shows off one of the 200 special-order jackets that Local 611 donated to the station’s annual “Koats for Kids” drive. Trujillo explained that the custom, Carhartt-like jackets, sewn by hand at a union plant in Michigan, are similar to what his construction members wear. The local also donated hundreds of other new, store-bought coats for children and teenagers.
The camera showed Business Manager Pete Trujillo standing behind a donation box stuffed with new coats inside an Albertsons grocery, one of many drop-off points for KOAT-TV’s annual “Koats for Kids” drive.
Community members gave generously, as always, but today the reporter wanted to know about the special dark-blue coat that one of Trujillo’s IBEW brothers was holding above the box.
“Stitched in America, Carhartt-like jackets,” Trujillo said proudly. “They’re sturdy, durable. These are what we use in construction. They can be handed down generation to generation.”
It was one of 200 coats sized for children and teenagers that Local 611 custom-ordered from a union manufacturer in Michigan, with NECA and building trades partners contributing toward the bill.
On top of keeping kids warm, Trujillo stressed to viewers, the coats provided work for American union members.
It was a feat they’d pulled off at lightning speed.
The station had invited Local 611 to be a Koats for Kids sponsor only a few weeks earlier, adding to the union’s long list of seasonal good deeds — from turkey and toy drives to food banks, a major blood drive, and more.
“From adoption to success, we didn’t have very much time,” said Baudilio Baca, who helped coordinate the project along with fellow assistant business manager Tomas Trujillo.
“You can be a major sponsor or you can be a minor sponsor, and we ended up being a major sponsor,” Tomas Trujillo said.
Members eagerly jumped in, contributing cash and new, store-bought coats on their own.
“One box actually split open, it was so full of coats,” Baca said.
Local 611 has been working with the TV station on marketing efforts, getting the word out about the IBEW — its training and career opportunities, but also its heart.
“We want to brand ourselves as partners in the community,” Baca said. “Members have commented how good it is to see the IBEW promoting good and promoting union workers and union work.”
|Local 796’s hall in Dothan, Ala., turns into Santa’s workshop every December to fill children’s wish lists, from toys to bicycles to clothing and more, along with food for families’ holiday meals. Workers and management at the Farley Nuclear Plant collaborate on the massive project, which began with a small toy drive in a member’s garage in 1985.
Carolyn Granger Jordan was 21 the first time someone asked her to make a Christmas list.
Growing up poor in the South, the future Dothan, Ala., Local 796 member never knew the childhood joy of writing down what hoped for, let alone waking up to sprawl of presents under the tree.
But that year, a friend’s family lovingly insisted. Jordan listed Chinos, a necklace, a purse and other items, not knowing what to expect.
“On Christmas morning, every single thing on the list was filled,” she said. “They gave unconditionally to me, just as if I were one of their own children.”
For decades now, with the enthusiastic support of her union, employer, and coworkers at the Farley Nuclear Plant in southeast Alabama, Jordan has been paying it forward.
She started with a toy drive in 1985, feeling blessed to be earning a living wage as an entry-level worker at the plant.
What started in her garage soon grew into a union hall operation rivaling Santa’s workshop, where everyone pitches in.
“There’s no line between us, no union side or management side,” said Local 796 member Rhonda Roberts, a Farley mechanic who shepherds the project, from year-round fundraising to a blizzard of shopping and wrapping. “It takes all of us to make it a success.”
Business Manager David Richardson noted that Farley managers are flexible about workers’ schedules around the holidays so they can volunteer. “We’re proud to lead the project every year, but it’s a joint effort with all our partners at Southern Nuclear,” he said.
Together, they made Christmas dreams come true for more than 60 area children in 2021, names gathered from social service agencies.
“We have them put down whatever their wishes are — clothes, toys, shoes, bicycles, everything,” Roberts said. “And we try to fill all of them.”
And then some. The generosity extends to grocery gift cards so families can put a turkey or ham on the table. And when parents or guardians arrive Local 796 to pick up their boxes of presents — for Santa to deliver —there’s always something special for older siblings, too.
That’s especially important to Jordan, having been a young adult the first time she experienced the magic of Christmas Day.
“We want to take care of them,” she said. “Everyone no matter how old wants Christmas.”
|A coat delivery to the Hazelwood School District was among a dozen-plus holiday stops for members of the Greater St. Louis Electrical Workers Minority Caucus. Since 2004, the annual EWMC coat drive has provided more than 11,000 new coats for area children, just one of the holiday-season projects supported by Local 1 and the labor-management Electrical Connection.
On a chilly fall day in 2003, Sylvester Taylor arrived at a St. Louis children’s home to take the boy he mentored to a Cardinals’ game.
“Hey, get your coat, it’s going to be cold,” the Local 1 journeyman wireman told him. “I don’t have a coat,” the 12-year-old said, hanging his head.
There were never enough coats to go around, and older kids had taken his. When Taylor asked how he stayed warm, the boy lifted his sweatshirt to reveal two more, saying he rotated the layers each day.
Taylor vowed to find coats for all the youth, triggering an IBEW project that’s kept thousands of St. Louis-area children warm and dry over the past 18 years.
The first full-fledged coat drive was 2004, the same year Taylor founded the city’s chapter of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, comprising members of Local 1 and utility Local 1439.
“We had a goal of around 450 coats this year and we blew right past that,” said Taylor, now the director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for the Electrical Connection, the local’s IBEW/NECA partnership. “We’ll top 11,000 new coats since we started.”
Between Local 1, the EWMC, and the Electrical Connection, the coat drive is just one of the many ways that IBEW members bring holiday joy to their community, Business Manager Frank Jacobs said.
Among them, he said, they help fund “Shop with a Cop” programs that pair youngsters with first responders for holiday shopping sprees. Local 1 also hosts the U.S. Probation Holiday Giving Program, providing gifts for scores of families, along with turkeys or hams.
Christmas week, Taylor and his elves had two more carloads of coats to deliver to social service agencies, including a trip to a third crisis nursery.
Tiffany Jones, a EWMC board member and telecommunications journeyman technician, volunteered at one of the nurseries as a teenager. Now she helps supply them with coats and clothing through annual Minority Caucus fundraisers that include a comedy show and holiday dance.
“It feels like coming full circle, from donating my time to donating things they badly need,” Jones said. “And they need everything.”