When Saint Paul Building Trades Construction Council Executive Secretary Don Mullin was standing out on the street motioning cars to come into the IBEW 110 food give away, a woman pulled up to ask him, “Are you really giving away free food?” When Mullin answered in the affirmative, she thanked him and told him her prayers had just been answered on her drive home. “I didn’t know how I was going to feed my family tonight.”
This past winter members of the Minnesota Building Trades put their feet and backs into helping distribute food to struggling people in their communities as part of Round 5 of the Farmers to Families Food Box program, a nationwide Coronavirus Food Assistance Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“The need is great all over,” said Saint Paul Labor Studies and Resource Center’s Erica Dalager-Reed. “You have one in six people in Minnesota living with food insecurities. The need was there before COVID. The need is even greater now.”
The St. Paul Regional Labor Federation under the Labor Studies and Resource Center became a broker of food for the state of Minnesota. Through this arrangement with the USDA, the unions received food deliveries and they proved particularly qualified to distribute it. While food shelves consist mostly of non-perishable pantry items, these food stuffs contain perishable foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and meat and dairy products. Food trucks arrived on site carrying 40,000 lbs. of food separated into 23 palettes with 70 boxes on each palette. The trade unions provided the equipment to move the food, the manpower required for the heavy lifting, and the space to house the food for pick up. Precautions had to be taken for COVID, so contactless pick ups were done.
Both current and retired union members from across the building trades participated in 22 events just in March alone. The program expires early this spring; there’s hope Congress will extend it again.
Barry Davies, financial secretary/treasurer of Iron Workers Local 512, said, “Helping out was a natural for us. We feel very fortunate because we have worked all year. It’s a chance for us to give back to the community.”
Rice County Habitat for Humanity’s latest home project is located on Willow Street, one of the city’s main throughfares in Faribault, MN. But on one particular day in February, the residence stood out from neighbors’ homes because of all the cars parked in front. Thirty electricians from IBEW Local 110 descended to install wiring and control equipment through the entire house, from the basement through the upper floor and into the garage.
The relationship between Local 110 and Rice County Habitat for Humanity dates back to 2000. The electricians started volunteering when Rice County Habitat for Humanity could only afford to develop one house a year. In 2019, they will be able to build four or five homes thanks to the volunteers of Local 110. “The work they do is incredible. Their work saves us between $12,000 to $18,000 per house,” explain Dana Norvold, executive director of Rice County Habitat for Humanity. “Everybody knows what to do, and they get it done fast. Plus, they’re a really nice community of people.”
Not only do the electricians donate their expertise, but they supply the parts and materials as well. And there’s never been a shortage of people who want to volunteer. According to Local 110’s Jeff Anderson, they’ve been able to combine the opportunity for electricians to sharpen their skills for residential housing with some fun. “We raffle off prizes and we have a catered lunch. With so much help, we get things done fast. I think those things have kept our people coming back,” he said.
Most of the work done by IBEW Local 110 electricians is industrial or commercial, so doing a single family home is a change of pace that helps keep their residential skills sharp. “At this time of year (winter), there’s not as much work so this helps us out. We give those who drive a distance a gas card in return for their help, too,” Anderson said. “In the summer when we’re busy, it’s more of a challenge to fit our work with Habitat in. But we always have enough people who want to do it.”
You can listen to the electricians hard at work here: