BNSF team jumps in feet first to provide shoes to the community
Before the sun was even up on June 17, members of our San Bernardino, Calif., team gathered at the local Food Distribution Center to host their first-ever shoe drive. The day began in familiar fashion with a safety briefing for the volunteers, but the events that followed were anything but ordinary.
The San Bernardino Community Shoe Drive — the delivery and distribution of 300-plus pairs of brand-new shoes and socks, along with 11 pallets of diapers and wipes — was brought about by Eden Omura, BNSF trainmaster, as part of an initiative to address insufficiencies in the community. It’s an initiative that Omura says comes naturally to BNSF employees.
“We take the training and tools that we’ve been given as railroaders by BNSF wherever we go. For example, when it comes to safety, we step in immediately to address concerns,” he said. “We should do the same thing in our community.” So, when Omura noticed that children in their community were lacking adequate footwear, he and his team were driven to “attack that lack and attack it with love.”
They brainstormed ideas for their call to action and eventually launched the shoe drive, starting in March with a fundraising goal of $1,000.
“The response was unreal,” said Omura. “Our folks were on fire to do what it takes to help.”
In under a month they had reached their goal, which was enough to cover the cost of brand-new shoes for 250 kids. Omura said it took the teamwork of many people to bring this initiative to fruition and that partnerships with organizations like Heart2Heart and Operation Hand Up (OHU) were vital for a successful outreach.
Omura explained that OHU’s great facility and increasing demand provided the perfect platform for the shoe drive to make a lasting impact. OHU currently occupies a 5,600-square-foot building that distributes food, clothing and miscellaneous items on a weekly basis — and at no cost to the community. In 2020, more than 1 million people in the San Bernardino area received food through OHU and 10.1 million pounds of food were distributed.
“We were very excited to partner with BNSF and their team of volunteers to provide shoes and household supplies to the people we serve,” said Rev. Dan Roth, one of OHU’s board of directors. “Watching the people make multiple trips to their cars with all of the food, supplies and shoes was a tremendous joy. More than anything else was seeing the smiles on the children’s faces that showed us the effects of the tremendous generosity and impact of the partnership between BNSF and OHU.”
The opportunity to work alongside OHU and to serve its clients allowed railroaders a chance to engage with their beloved community off the tracks.
“Showing up to volunteer was real evidence of our values and vision put into practice,” Omura continued. “This is our community. The kids see our trains go through their neighborhood all the time so it’s neat to have them actually meet the railroaders… They [San Bernardino families] see us waving from the trains but to see us show up at the food line, taking the time to be there supporting them — they were walking away in tears and with smiles on their faces.”
Efforts like the San Bernardino Shoe Drive are examples of BNSF employees’ commitment to supporting the communities where we live and work. The BNSF Railway Foundation joined the cause as well, surprising Omura and the San Bernardino team with a $2,500 donation to Heart2Heart and a $5,000 donation to Operation Hand Up.
“One of BNSF’s core values is investing in our communities and encouraging our employees to be involved in community activities,” said Lena Kent, executive director, Public Affairs, in San Bernardino. “The BNSF Railway Foundation is proud to support Operation Hand Up and Heart2Heart.”
Said Omura: “More money means more reach. These organizations are making miraculous contributions to many communities, especially San Bernardino, and I know now that they will have more funds to take care of even more families. It’s amazing what can happen when we all come together like this.”
We couldn’t have said it better. Well done, Team BNSF San Bernardino! And thank you to those who opened your hearts, wallets, and time to support this effort.
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