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A Partnership and a Pledge: TMH Helps American Red Cross Carry the Load

Posted: March 28, 2023
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In early September, Dean Stewart got a weather warning on his phone: Category 2 hurricane to make Florida landfall in 72 hours. Despite seeing clear skies from his Columbus office – and 1,800 miles separating Toyota Material Handling’s North American headquarters from Florida – Stewart went on alert, preparing to respond as if the natural disaster was heading for his own backyard.


On September 11, Hurricane Sally made landfall with winds gusting up to 103 mph, paving a path of destruction across the Florida panhandle that left thousands without power, water, or shelter.


Just a few days later, as a result of a unique partnership between Toyota Material Handling and the American Red Cross, Stewart stood in the Tallahassee airport with the keys to a rented minivan in his hand, preparing for the 3-hour drive to Gulf Breeze, Florida, where the Red Cross had initiated disaster relief operations.


For the next two weeks, the Toyota strategic account executive, and U.S. Army veteran, put more than 3,500 miles on that van as he moved along I-10 from Pensacola to Orange Beach, Alabama, conducting major damage assessments for the Red Cross. Stewart was one of a few Red Cross volunteers who were able to deploy because of the demands and restrictions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.


As Stewart traveled down the interstate in the rented van – originally white but now tinted with a thick coat of dirt – he witnessed destruction beyond what he ever could have imagined. Trees had been uprooted, yachts washed ashore along the highway with broken anchors.


Buildings had been blown on top of one another, and displaced residents stood piling ruined drywall and furniture on the plot of land where their family home had stood only hours earlier.


One of those displaced residents – a man in his 60s – desperately tried to take inventory of all he had lost. The man somberly showed Stewart pictures of one item that could never be replaced – a china cabinet that had become a family heirloom and was passed down for several generations.


“I’m guessing that was worth more to him than everything else he owned. And he lost everything,” Stewart says. “That’s pretty impactful, when that person is talking to you and telling you that story.”

‘Helping People Carry The Load’

Toyota Material Handling supported Stewart’s two-week deployment, and a growing group of Toyota associates are participating in the company’s alliance with the Red Cross, a partnership formally established in 2018.


TMH President & CEO Jeff Rufener championed the initiative because of his passion for the mission of the Red Cross. Instead of just making monetary donations, though, Rufener wanted to set an example for the company by dedicating time to ensure he was intimately engaged in – and committed to – Toyota’s partnership with the Red Cross.

Rufener’s service as a board member for the Red Cross’ Southeast Chapter of Indiana marked the beginning of a much broader relationship, along with a pledge for a coordinated, national disaster response solution from the powerful North American Toyota Forklift network.

“Toyota’s founding principle, the reason we exist, is to contribute to society. That’s why we chose to partner with the Red Cross, because its mission aligns so well with ours,” Rufener said. “We are a business, so we obviously have to generate a profit to sustain ourselves, but we can never lose sight of our core purpose. Our forklift interpretation of that core purpose is ‘Helping People Carry the Load’.”

Logistics are a major challenge in any disaster relief effort because, once acquired, food, water, clothing and temporary shelter must be moved quickly and efficiently. Forklifts amplify and streamline recovery work because deploying of a forklift, or a fleet of them, can reduce the need for disaster response teams to manually move relief supplies. This means desperately needed supplies and materials can get to the families in need much faster and more efficiently.


Since 2018, Toyota Material Handling’s partnership with the Red Cross has resulted in corporate, dealer and associate support that includes donations of rental equipment, time, expertise, money and in some cases, blood donations, as part of the company’s growing relationship with the Red Cross.


“The Red Cross is extremely grateful to count Toyota Material Handling as a valued partner during times of disaster,” said Brad Kieserman, Vice President of Disaster Services and Logistics for the American Red Cross. “Toyota Material Handling, its employees and dealers are always there when we need them with equipment and support to help quickly deliver aid to people impacted by disasters big and small.”

In 2020, a year full of challenges, Toyota’s corporate partnership with the American Red Cross resonates more now than ever. Both organizations have become synonymous with innovation and continuous improvement.


Rufener points to the Red Cross’ ability to change the way it collects blood during the pandemic as an example. Since March, over 50,000 blood drives were canceled – three times more than in 2019. The pandemic forced schools, businesses and community organizations to close, eliminating more than one million scheduled blood donation appointments. Still, millions of Americans rolled up their sleeves – more than 500,000 of them giving for the first time.


The pandemic also required the Red Cross to adapt its collections to include plasma from COVID-19 survivors to help those battling the virus recover. Since April, nearly 25,000 COVID-19 survivors – many of whom were new to blood donation – stepped up to share their potentially lifesaving antibodies by giving plasma. Their donations have enabled the Red Cross to ship nearly 50,000 units to hospitals treating COVID-19 patients across the country.


“Sometimes change is evolutionary. Sometimes it’s revolutionary. Either way, it can be threatening or it can be exciting because it creates opportunities,” Rufener said. “To me, the Red Cross is a living, breathing example of change. COVID forced them to change their entire business model, and they evolved. The Red Cross saved so many lives because of their ability – and willingness – to evolve and get better.”


Toyota Material Handling is supporting the Red Cross through these times of change with a recent capital investment for a new blood mobile which will be the first-ever mobile collection unit built to support the new collection process by accounting for COVID-19 safety precautions.


This mobile collection unit will dramatically increase the collections capacity compared to older blood mobile models. The Toyota-sponsored blood mobile will be able to collect approximately 30,000 units of blood each year, servicing communities across the greater south central Indiana region.


“We are proud to sponsor this first-of-its-kind mobile collection unit, and are humbled by the opportunity to help our fellow neighbors in new ways,” Rufener said. “Our company aligns so well with the Red Cross because, in both cases, we embrace change rather than fear it. For companies like Toyota and the Red Cross, change can be – and has been – our ally. It has only made our partnership stronger.”

North American Dealer Network Enables Rapid Response to Natural Disasters

While Toyota’s relationship with the Red Cross began at its corporate headquarters in Indiana, participation quickly spread to the company’s industry-leading dealer network across North America. A growing number of Toyota dealers are actively engaging with their local Red Cross chapters to help their communities and neighbors in times of need.

team of American Red Cross volunteers

Dealer involvement is emblematic of Toyota’s culture and social consciousness. More than 230 Toyota Forklift dealer locations align with Red Cross distribution centers across the country, ensuring fast and efficient deployment of any equipment required to move aid supplies to those in need.


Toyota Forklift dealerships in more than 20 disaster-impacted communities across North America have quickly responded with equipment donations, volunteers and material handling expertise within hours of a Red Cross request. Recent examples include: California’s Camp Fire; tornado relief in Tennessee; flooding in Indiana and Texas; CARR wildfire; Hurricanes Florence, Michael and Sally; earthquake relief in California and more. Toyota dealers have provided additional assistance in the form of warehousing efficiency and logistics training, and forklift operator training for Red Cross volunteers.


The largest response by Toyota dealers occurred during the fall of 2018 when Category 4 Hurricane Florence hit the nation’s East Coast in September, followed less than a month later by Category 5 Hurricane Michael, which made landfall near Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. These successive disasters causing historic levels of catastrophic damage along both the East and Gulf coasts, prompting the immediate response of multiple Toyota dealers and the dispatch of more than 50 material handling units.


In situations like this, Toyota is committed to deploying essential equipment within 48 hours of an event. By providing these resources, Toyota helps alleviate the costs associated with disaster response and allows the Red Cross to reallocate those dollars back to the organization’s life-saving work.


Southeast Industrial Equipment (SIE) – a Toyota dealer with 11 locations in the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia – delivered 11 Toyota hand pallet jacks and 13 Toyota forklifts to Red Cross locations across the areas devastated by Hurricane Florence. SIE donated one month of the rental equipment to the Red Cross, and TMH covered the expenses for the remaining months the equipment was needed.

SIE is just one of many Toyota Forklift dealers committed to providing immediate assistance when natural disasters strike their local communities.


“Hurricane Florence left a devastating path of destruction through the communities we serve. It was a great honor to help with the disaster relief efforts in any way we could,” said SIE Marketing Manager Becky Ammons. “We felt like our equipment rental contributions in partnership with Toyota Material Handling were the least we could do in support of the great organization that is the American Red Cross.”

Strong Associate Support

Beyond disaster relief assistance, Toyota Material Handling and its associates are engaged in a variety of programs that support the Red Cross and its mission through corporate giving and a heightened level of volunteerism. TMH offers their associates 16 hours of paid volunteer time each year, with eight hours specifically earmarked for the Red Cross.


Rufener explains that partnering with a brand like the Red Cross has not only heightened Toyota’s profile in communities across North America, but has also helped the company recruit a talented and diverse workforce.


Gallup research indicates that meaningful employee engagement has measurable positive effects on key business outcomes such as employee satisfaction, productivity, absenteeism, and customer care. The Cone Communications Millennial Employee Study found that 64 percent of Millennials won’t take a job if their employer doesn’t have a strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy, and 83 percent would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues.


“We wanted a partner with a national and local scope so our associates, and our dealers and their associates, could support it – not only financially, but also by donating their personal time,” Rufener said.


As the partnership has gained ground, thousands of associates from Toyota Material Handling and their dealers have become a nationwide network of passionate Red Cross promoters.


Robin Gill, a business analyst who is responsible for managing TMH’s disaster response, said associates throughout the company are unwavering in their support and passion for the Red Cross, and are driven to use their volunteer hours to have a true impact on the lives of people in their community.


“It’s inspiring to me to see how something we started in Indiana has spread across the Toyota dealer network and motivated others to build upon the partnership,” Gill said.


As an example, Gill points to enthusiastic associate support for the Red Cross’ “Sound the Alarm” campaign, a program created to help reduce home fire deaths and injuries through home fire safety training and smoke alarm installation. Home fires claim seven lives every day, but having working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half.

Toyota Material Handling associates supported “Sound the Alarm” events over the past two years by installing 232 free smoke alarms, sharing safety information with 375 families in at-risk communities, and fundraising to help families prepare for, respond to, and recover from home fires.


TMH’s participation with the “Sound the Alarm” campaign has already made an impact. In 2019, three TMH associates installed smoke detectors in a Columbus home where they hadn’t been replaced in 10 years. The multi-story house had caught fire on multiple occasions in the past, and was home to a couple and two autistic children.


In December 2019, a Columbus residence caught fire just one month after TMH volunteers had installed new smoke alarms. The local resident got out of the house safely because of the new detectors.


“We are appreciative of TMH’s awareness and participation to save lives with this campaign,” said Chad Priest, CEO of the American Red Cross’ Indiana Region. “Thanks to our partnerships with companies like Toyota Material Handling, hundreds of lives have been saved because of this critical work.”


Collectively, associate and dealer support for the Red Cross partnership has grown to encompass a wide variety of lifesaving programs and includes:


  • A Toyota-sponsored bloodmobile equipped with COVID-19 safety precautions in mind
  • 5 Disaster Action Team volunteers trained
  • 10 Red Cross warehouse volunteers trained in forklift safety & operation
  • 10 volunteers trained to present Pillowcase Project program
  • 18 blood drives
  • Response to 19 natural disasters
  • 24 Toyota dealers engaged
  • 154 equipment units dispatched
  • 232 smoke alarms installed in local homes
  • 375 people reached with home fire prevention education
  • 1,208 units of blood donated
  • 2,000 hours volunteered
  • 2,000 comfort care kits assembled
  • $366,466 in financial support

Looking Ahead: Charting the Course for a Growing Partnership

Toyota Material Handling is committed to providing even more support for the Red Cross in the coming years. The company’s roadmap for its future with the Red Cross includes increased collaboration, volunteerism, financial support and education efforts to make the partnership even more impactful.


Rufener’s vision for the partnership started with a pledge to provide the material handling equipment needed by the American Red Cross to respond to disasters in North America, but has since grown into something much larger – and more powerful – than just equipment donation.


“Helping People Carry the Load” has become the mantra of Toyota Material Handling, one that connects the company’s corporate culture with the people and communities it serves.


Toyota’s partnership with the Red Cross has provided those that work for the company and its dealers with a shared mission and a unifying sense of purpose. It has strengthened TMH’s corporate culture, reinforced its adherence to the company’s core values and, most importantly, it has positively impacted countless lives throughout North America.

Red Cross Fourth of July Forklift

That includes the lives of TMH associates – like Dean Stewart, who says he has always been driven to serve his country. Toyota’s partnership with the Red Cross has provided Stewart with a new way to serve, and his service has left him with a powerful perspective.


As he wrapped up his Hurricane Sally deployment, Stewart marveled at the resilience of people in the face of the worst possible circumstances and took a moment to reflect on the partnership and the pledge that allowed him the opportunity to be of service to Americans in need. That reflection quickly evolved into deep gratitude.


“I’m so thankful that the Red Cross is there for people when they need them,” Stewart said. “And I’m extremely fortunate to work for a company that doesn’t just say that helping others is important, but actively encourages and supports its people to be there for others in their time of greatest need. What else could you really ask for?”


The Toyota Material Handling Annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report details Toyota’s partnership with the American Red Cross, and the many other ways the company honors its mission to use its position as the No. 1 forklift and material handling brand in North America to be an exceptional corporate partner. To learn how you can support your local chapter of the Red Cross, click here.


About Toyota Material Handling


Toyota Material Handling offers a full line of material handling products proudly assembled in the United States, including forklifts, reach trucks, order pickers, pallet jacks, container handlers, automated guided vehicles, and tow tractors, along with aerial work platforms, fleet management services, and advanced automation engineering and design. Toyota’s commitment to quality, reliability and customer satisfaction, the hallmark of the Toyota Production System, extends throughout more than 230 locations across North America. For more information, visit ToyotaForklift.com.


About the American Red Cross:


The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

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