Coming Through for Families During the Pandemic

The United Way and Habitat for Humanity, two charity organizations with strong partnerships with The Timken Company, represent bright spots on a dismal 2020 calendar characterized by Covid-19 case counts, hospitalizations, economic devastation, and too many loved ones lost.

This past year, Timken associates maintained their commitments to those organizations despite their own personal losses and setbacks. In doing so, they helped ease suffering and spread hope, along with Timken values, into the broader community.

During a pandemic, safe housing is everything

“Thanks to Timken volunteers, families moved into new homes in time to celebrate the holidays,” says Beth Lechner, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of East Central Ohio. “We’re so thankful that Timken stayed with us. Those families are in a better, safer place this winter.”

When the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, the outlook was uncertain, to say the least. “We were set to dig our first house of the season, a Timken Company build, on April 4th,” says Lechner. Habitat, along with most organizations (including Timken) shut down on-site operations, but Lechner’s team immediately began putting together a plan for maintaining their work in the midst of Covid-19.

On the Timken side, Jordan Lindesmith, principal, people analytics and Timken Habitat program co-chair, says the company’s first concern was the safety of Timken employees. When things started opening back up in the summer, the Habitat team put together a safety plan. It limited the number of volunteers on a work site and instituted a list of precautions, including temperature checks, mask-wearing, hand sanitizer, and color-coded tool buckets.

“Everyone had their own set of tools for the day,” says Lechner. Because most Habitat builds are new construction and don’t have water on location, a few dedicated volunteers built foot-pump-operated hand-washing stations that were distributed to each building site.

“With all that in place, we knew we were in a position where we could feel comfortable inviting volunteers to come back,” she says. Although Habitat began building homes this year in July, rather than April, the organization has succeeded in housing all the families it had committed to housing by the end of 2020, thanks to volunteer support.

Tough times. Strong Timken communities.

Timken’s association with United Way spans nearly 100 years. In 1922, a member of the Timken family heard about the work of what was then known as Community Chest. “They were impressed by the concept of a community coming together to give to a single entity, which could then spread oversight, support and encouragement back into the community,” says Maria Heege, president and CEO of United Way Stark County.

Today, Timken’s support covers the U.S., with different locations managing and funding their own United Way programs to align with their own local needs. “Timken has a special place in our hearts because they helped start our movement here in the region,” says Heege. “We love the work we do, and we can do it because of companies like Timken.”

Before Covid-19, that work drew Timken associates together for in-person fundraising events, such as the annual golf classic and the leadership breakfast. “We held a carry-out breakfast to-go event this year,” says Vince Mennona, national sales manager for Timken’s aerospace business, who chaired the Timken United Way campaign in 2020.

Most of this year’s fundraising happened in Zoom meetings and conference calls, he says. Despite canceling popular in-person events, Mennona and the Timken communications team made sure the United Way message got out.

“We tried to get people to look outside of the mirror,” he says. “While it’s been tough for all of us, in most cases it’s even tougher outside of Timken—and this is where our partnership with United Way can really help.”

The message was effective. In spite of hard times, Timken associates sustained their donation levels from 2019. Thanks to the Timken Charitable and Education Fund and other donors, nearly 300 households, including 429 children, received nearly $272,000 in assistance from the United Way’s Covid-19 Impact Fund—just in Heege’s region. In addition, the organization collected over 2,500 pounds of food, 103,733 masks, and 800 donations of cleaning supplies.

“You learn when you go through something like this, just how amazing a community can be,” says Heege. “We can come together in a respectful way—focusing on our most vulnerable, and those who did everything right and then got broadsided by Covid-19—and just help people through it.”

Getting it done, without hesitation

After the initial shock of the shut-down, Timken’s Habitat for Humanity team determined that their commitment to Habitat families was more important than ever. “We all realized that this isn’t the place and time to run away from this partnership and this work,” says Lindesmith. “This is exactly why we’re doing it, and why it’s needed.”

Melissa Kerney, program manager for aerospace and Timken Habitat chair, says 200 Timken volunteers showed up this year to make sure families waiting for homes would be settled in by the winter holidays.

“It’s encouraging to work with people who are excited to help others,” says Kerney. “It was important to all of us to help these families, especially through this time that they were required to be at home and maybe they didn’t have the best housing.”

Lechner echoes that sentiment. “It says so much about our volunteers. I can honestly tell you that there was not one hesitation. Timken associates were going to see this community project through.”

Timken’s commitment to supporting local communities and leading during a crisis was on full display around the world in 2020. Associates in India took the initiative to feed people without access to food, enlisting friends and colleagues in the effort. Read about it here.