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Giving Back

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— February 15, 2017

Giving Back

  • How our people, through volunteering, generate goodwill in their communities and beyond.
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»Eileen Viole Graphics Designer, Melville NY

Eileen has worked at Natural Organics for 13 years. Like other company employees, she has participated in walkathons, held each October on the boardwalk at Jones Beach State Park on Long Island’s South Shore, to raise money for breast cancer research. She is active at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hicksville and participates in community service projects through the church, including fundraisers such as music cafés, pancake breakfasts, and Christmas tree sales.

This past summer, Eileen enjoyed working in the church’s community garden, growing fruits, and vegetables for local veterans and other people in need. Every Monday night from 6:30 till dusk, she helped plant, till, water and weed. “The most rewarding part was harvesting and bagging up our crops and getting to see the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor,” Eileen says. “It was great to be able to work with some really nice people, and it feels good to be able to help someone. I also liked being on an outdoor project and learning how to grow things.”

The garden started in 2011, consists of 33 raised beds and a small fruit orchard. Garden coordinator Melissa Clements says, “It’s not a typical community garden; we are working together to feed those who are less fortunate. Every volunteer is essential to getting that work accomplished.” Volunteers must have a positive attitude and patience since with gardening it often takes months to see results. “People need to be flexible and have a go-with-the-flow type of attitude,” adds Melissa. “You never know what’s going to happen, and that’s okay. You’re there not for yourself but to help other people.”

»Suzanne Tenn Director of Export, Melville NY

Suzanne has worked at Natural Organics for 21 years, supervising sales to Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. She grew up on the island of Jamaica, where she participated in community projects as a member of youth groups such as the Girl Guides. “There was always a great need because of the poverty levels in Jamaica,” Suzanne says. “I had it in me that there was a need to give back.”

Suzanne teaches her children to help others. “Volunteer opportunities are my special times with my girls when we are out doing something positive together,” she says. “And it keeps them busy and out of trouble.” When her older daughter was a Girl Scout, Suzanne was a troop leader. She has worked beside her two kids on such projects as food drives to support children in need. In recent years, Suzanne has been active in the Deer Park Arts Council, which raises money for arts programs in cash-strapped schools. The council’s fundraisers help buy musical instruments and art supplies, finance school trips, pay for master classes and give scholarships to graduating students who want to pursue art careers.

“The arts are instrumental in helping to form a child’s creativity and sense of self,” said council president Ron Becker. “Suzanne is a board member, and she brings the skill set she uses at work. Her ideas help us move forward as an organization both structurally and to raise funds. And if we have a performance at the school, she’s right there at 5:30 or 6:00 to sell refreshments and t-shirts. She’s a real asset.”

»Suzette Cajka Marketing Services Assistant Manager, Reno NV

Suzette is in her fifth year at Natural Organics. When she was between jobs, she made a point of volunteering frequently. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, do some volunteer work, and you’ll feel better,” Suzette notes. “It was also a good networking tool for me. It gave me a sense of where I want to be, and people told me where to look for a job.”

Although Suzette is now working full-time, she spends time on weekends helping in the community. She has worked with Alzheimer’s patients, encouraging them to move and remember. “Music from their past makes them happier,” she said. “You see a glimmer there, and it feels like they’re dancing in their seats. Most of them are wheelchair-bound, and we throw a ball, to encourage them to kick and move their arms. The muscles will atrophy if they don’t do anything.”

At Reno’s animal shelter, Suzette taught feral cats to become more social. She has joined walks against hunger, assembled hygiene kits for people in homeless shelters and fed homeless people living under a bridge. At the Community Food Pantry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Sparks, Nevada, Suzette bagged up food and handed it out to people.

Barbara Monroy, president of the food pantry, said the organization has no paid employees. “If we didn’t have volunteers, we wouldn’t exist,” she said. “Our goal is to treat those in need with dignity and respect and to fill their bellies.” Volunteers like Suzette display sensitivity and compassion, which Barbara considers even more important than the food. “There but for the grace of God could it be me,” she said, adding, “We’re here to be kind.”

»Sharon Landon Materials Manager, Melville NY

Sharon’s job at Natural Organics involves purchasing everything the company needs, from packing materials to manufacturing equipment. Her volunteer work has included leading the company’s team in last year’s breast cancer walk. Since her son joined the US Coast Guard, Sharon has devoted her efforts to the military. “I’ve come to realize what so many of us forget— the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women—and their families,” Sharon says. “We don’t get our kids on their birthdays or Christmas.”

Sharon has joined a group of Coast Guard mothers who fundraise to pay travel expenses for women who can’t afford to go watch their children graduate from boot camp. “It’s such a milestone,” said Sharon. “Mothers should get to be there.” She misses her son, who is stationed in South Carolina, so she mothers the young people serving in the Coast Guard on Fire Island, ten minutes from her house, where she is known as Coast Guard Mom Sharon. “I’ve adopted them,” says Sharon. “Last year, I cooked them a Christmas dinner. At Thanksgiving, I brought a bunch of pies. One of my vendors has a contest, and I won free baseball tickets, which I gave to them. My son is far away, and I know these kids’ mothers are missing them. They’re out doing stuff we don’t want to be doing.” Malerie Bell, 22, serves on Fire Island as officer of the day to a crew of 15. She is also coxswain on small boats that go out for search-and-rescue operations.

“Sharon’s our mom,” said Malerie. “She visits us for every holiday, and she’s always there for anybody. She took me around to doctors when I had an injured ankle and needed surgery. It’s great to feel that someone cares and helps us get by when we’re missing our families.”

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