SUPPORTING COMMUNITIES THROUGH DISASTER RELIEF VOLUNTEERISM CITIZENSHIP
When natural disasters strike, Medtronic employees rally.
When natural disasters strike, Medtronic employees rally.
When Hurricane Michael made landfall on October 10, 2018, it was a Category 5 storm that tore through the Florida Panhandle, ripping roofs off homes and flattening others. Months of cleanup followed for the beachside communities hardest hit by the hurricane.
In April 2019, a team of Medtronic employees traveled to Panama City Beach, Florida to help with the recovery efforts. There, they met families living in homes still covered in tarps and an 86-year-old Korean War veteran who was struggling to remove part of a boat dock that had been blown onto his property.
“At some point, you stop hearing about what’s going on and assume everything is OK,” said Kimberly Wright, a CVG sales operations coordinator who is based in Georgia. “But on the road to Panama City, I noticed the trees bent at a 40-degree angle, and that’s when I realized everything was not OK.”
The trip Wright took with her colleagues was one of five disaster relief trips the Medtronic Foundation coordinated this year. In addition to Florida, Medtronic employee volunteers traveled to Mexico, Texas, North Carolina, and Puerto Rico to help communities impacted by natural disasters.
“Natural disasters are on the rise, and today they are among the greatest threats to global health,” said Paurvi Bhatt, vice president, Philanthropy at Medtronic, and president, Medtronic Foundation. “Our focus is on improving health for underserved populations and unfortunately communities struck by disasters have created increasing need.”
Medtronic supports disaster recovery efforts around the globe by offering employees five days of paid time off, specifically to volunteer. Medtronic volunteers are also eligible to earn a $500 volunteer grant from the Medtronic Foundation for the nonprofit partner they work with on disaster relief.
The grants are part of a broader effort to support the Medtronic Mission and commitment to employee civic engagement around the world. The Medtronic Foundation also supports employees’ charitable giving with a one-to-one match up to $5,000 per year.
“We want employees to use their time, talent, and treasure,” says Bhatt. “And when they use their treasure — we want to help multiply that.”
The Medtronic Foundation plays a vital role in supporting the company’s disaster relief efforts by working with local nonprofits to support communities long after volunteer teams have left.
“One focus is building resilience,” said Sarah Boulle, program director for All Hands and Hearts, an international disaster relief organization supported by the Medtronic Foundation. “We want to empower the community. Disasters will happen again, and we can’t stop that. But we provide the resources and training, so they know how to respond.”
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Houston, Texas more than two years ago — leaving at least 42,000 people in shelters and destroying residences in its path. When a team of Medtronic employees arrived to help with recovery efforts in the summer of 2019, they met several families still living in water-damaged homes.
“It was just insane,” said Susan Ramlet, a global IT manager from Minnesota. “It’s mind-boggling to me that there are people who are living in the rot and mold for two years while they have to wait for help to arrive.”
Similar stories exist around the globe. More than two years after an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck the town of Salinas del Marques, the small community in central Mexico is still rebuilding. A team of Medtronic employees assisted with those efforts recently, helping to build a new school for the town.
“The community is very thoughtful and very thankful we’re here,” said Meas Danok, an EHS specialist from Canada. “When we walk by, they’ll say, ‘Hola, gracias.’ It’s rewarding to know we’re making a difference.”
Hilda Olivera, a resident of Salinas del Marqués whose home was damaged by the earthquake, said she and others will never forget how volunteers helped rebuild the community.
“When these children are adults, they will remember this,” she said. “This will go in our history books. They will tell their children about the people who came from other countries to help us.”
Medtronic employees who go on disaster relief trips organized by the Medtronic Foundation frequently work long days in challenging conditions. Many of the homes damaged by hurricanes, for example, have mold growing in the walls, requiring volunteers to wear protective gear.
Several Medtronic employees said they were surprised by how much of an impact they could make when they arrived on a work site with little to no experience in major home repair. But “mucking and gutting” became second nature to the volunteers repairing homes damaged by hurricanes.
“By day three, I was hanging drywall without incident and even installed a door,” said Brett Cromwell, a communications specialist from Portsmouth, New Hampshire who helped with Hurricane Florence relief efforts in New Bern, North Carolina.
Volunteers often don’t know each other when they arrive. But that soon changes, and long-lasting relationships are formed.
“You often hear how big Medtronic is, but you don’t fully understand the scope of what that means until you show up to volunteer and meet such a diverse group of employees,” Wright said. “And they’re all amazing people.”
Liz Bixler, an engineer in Minnesota, said working in Houston was an incredible experience and — like many other Medtronic employees — she’s eager to volunteer again.
“Honestly, it was a humbling experience that really puts things into perspective,” Bixler said. “It makes me feel good to know that Medtronic supports this kind of work. Yes, we are a medical device company that is focused on improving quality of life for patients. But it’s clear to me that Medtronic cares about improving other aspects of life beyond the physical well-being.”
For more information about the company’s disaster relief efforts, please visit the Medtronic Foundation's website.