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June 2020

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Chicago, Iowa Locals Keep Communities Fed

From delivering groceries to retirees to helping feed their larger communities, efforts by members in Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, are snapshots of the kindnesses that IBEW brothers and sisters have been extending around the country since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

In Chicago, a Local 134 crew that included Business Manager Donald Finn filled carts and pallets at Costco in late March with food for IBEW retirees and widows.

"We know that the older generation can be more susceptible to severe complications from this disease, so we wanted to make it as easy and safe as possible for them to get the supplies they need," said Elbert Walters, who coordinated the project as director of Powering Chicago, the local's labor-management partnership.

Apprentices and business agents headed to more than 100 homes throughout Local 134's large territory with care packages, mainly non-perishables such as peanut butter, tuna, crackers and granola bars. They set boxes on doorsteps, rang bells, and hustled away as grateful recipients shouted, "Thank you!" from a distance.

It felt a little like "reverse trick-or-treat," Walters said, calling it "an amazing experience for everyone."

In Iowa, Local 704 and the Dubuque Area Labor Harvest, a food pantry that unions have run since the 1980s, are helping meet their community's growing needs.

Business Manager Tom Townsend and his wife, Judee, have packed hundreds of boxes with everything from canned goods and pasta to meats, cheese and eggs.

Households on a list provided by a community service agency get a box of non-perishables and another with refrigerated items that Townsend and other volunteers leave at the doors. Worried about older people managing the heavy packages alone, Townsend on occasion has carried them inside, keeping a safe distance. "If I'm delivering, it just depends," he said. "I struggle with that."

In addition to the home deliveries, the Labor Harvest still runs its primary programs: hot breakfasts served on Saturdays, except for once a month when there's a walk-in food giveaway. The difference now is that breakfast is packaged to-go, as are food boxes that people pick up at the door.

Retired Local 704 Business Manager Dan Hammel, an original Labor Harvest board member, is on hand every weekend. "Organizations in Dubuque have been very gracious, going out of their way to help," he said. "Businesses have been making extra donations. And we've got lots of volunteers — lots of union people, retirees, their sons and daughters."

Unions are family, after all.

"That's really how this all started," Townsend said, referring to the Labor Harvest's origins in the 1980s. "The unions started collecting food for unemployed members, and then as the economy started getting better and people started going back to work, they said, 'Why not start giving back to the community?'"


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