When 9-year associate Tom Whearty was preparing to ride in the Pan Mass Challenge, a fundraising bike-a-thon, last year, he received a phone call from a woman who wanted to donate to the cause. "She asked me if you have to give a certain amount, or if it would be OK to give five dollars," he recalls. "That really struck me. Whatever you give is OK, of course, but for her to ask that question probably meant that that five dollars meant a lot to her. To me, she gave more with her five dollars than people who gave larger amounts."
That kind of human compassion probably goes a long way toward explaining the level of involvement that earned Tom Grand Circle Foundation's Excellence in Community Service award this year.
A Full Menu of Community Service
Tom rode the Pan Mass Challenge in honor of his wife's late brother Carl, who lost his fight with cancer a year ago. In addition, Tom has served as a "floor captain" for one of the company's regular blood drives. And he has also participated in Grand Circle's largest annual community service event, Rebuilding Together Boston, in which Grand Circle associates and friends spend a day repairing and restoring the home of a neighbor in need.
It is in feeding the hungry, however, that Tom's true passion for service lies. His activities in this arena began when he participated in the "Pie in the Sky" campaign, an event once led by the Community Service team at Grand Circle's Boston headquarters. In this program, volunteers sell donated pies at Thanksgiving-time to benefit Community Servings, a meals-delivery and nutrition program for the critically ill.
When Community Servings relocated to another part of Boston, however, Tom began looking for a service partner a little closer to the office. He found it in the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Serving Up Volunteers for the Greater Boston Food Bank
Tom began organizing volunteers for the Greater Boston Food Bank in 2008. Under his quiet leadership, Grand Circle associates ride the company van to the Food Bank for a few hours at the end of a workday, to sort food to be delivered to the city's hungry. "I like the fact that it allows a large group of people do something for another large group of people," he says. Today, the effort has grown to engage more than 20 associates in what has become a quarterly event.
That schedule evolved out of Tom's frustration at having to miss Grand Circle's Rebuilding Together Boston event one year. "Some of the events the company supports are annual, so if you have to miss it, you have to wait another year before it rolls around again," he explains. "By setting it up quarterly, people have another chance to get involved."
Earlier this year, Tom expanded this ambitious program by spearheading a drive not only to sort food, but to actually provide it. Boston associates were encouraged to bring in non-perishables that would be delivered to the Food Bank. "There's always good support here," Tom says modestly. "You send an email, and you get replies within minutes." The response in this case was overwhelming—and gratifying, resulting in an impressive wall of boxed and canned food that greeted visitors to the company's reception area. In all, the drive succeeded in generating two truckloads—or 840 pounds—of donated groceries.
An Inspiration to Others
"One of the great things about working for Grand Circle is that you have plenty of opportunities to do something for others, and they make it easy to do it," Tom says. A Grand Circle associate for nearly ten years, he today is Director of Business Solutions. In this key position in the company's Datawarehouse group, he develops reports that drive its marketing, sales, and promotional efforts. Tom modestly credits his co-workers with helping and inspiring him along the path of community service.
It is often Tom himself, however, who is an inspiration. And not just to his colleagues. Tom also gets his children involved in community service, from Rebuilding Together Boston to the annual food harvesting event in the nearby suburb of Lincoln, Mass. In this full-day program held in the late summer or early fall and organized by inner-city students, Grand Circle associates and their families help to harvest whatever happens to be ready to be picked. "It's great to dig out potatoes or squash with your bare hands," Tom says. The father of five children ranging in age from eight to 16, Tom delights that he can involve the entire family in the event—including his wife, since bringing all the kids means neither of them has to stay behind.
Tom also encourages his colleagues to bring spouses and children with them to sort food at the Greater Boston Food Bank. "That way, you can participate in the event and not take time away from the people you want to be with," he points out. He adds that, through school, scouting, church, and other organizations, many high school students are obligated to donate a certain number of hours to community service, and this event gives them that opportunity. "It's high energy, it's fun, and you're done by eight," he says. "If you go once, there's a good chance you'll be coming back."
Adding a Regional Flavor to Community Service
Tom makes it easy by providing transportation, a reasonable timeframe, and an enthusiastic spirit. Now, he's engaged in making it easy for associates from Grand Circle's network of regional offices to get involved, too. "The regional folks are in and out of the office throughout the year," he says. When he saw regional associates participating in another Boston community service event, he became more proactive in offering them an opportunity to join the Greater Boston Food Bank team. "Good for them for doing it," he says with typical considerateness.
Even when traveling, Tom can't resist pitching in to help others. Not long ago, he joined a group of Grand Circle associates on a trip to Vietnam that included a stop at a local school. The group spent a morning helping to clean the classrooms.
As Tom says about all of his community service endeavors, "I've got a lot of good stuff in my life. Why not do something good for others?"
It's a very good question from someone who shows by example that a busy work and home life is no reason not to serve.