Lott Industries, Vista Foods partnership feeds childrenWritten by Jay Hathaway | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Feeding the poor is always a worthwhile cause, but a Toledo company is proud of being so while simultaneously serving area workers with disabilities.
Lott Industries, which has two facilities in Toledo and Maumee, has employed people with developmental disabilities since 1965. This summer, Lott teamed with Vista Food Exchange to complete a contract with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks to package and ship meals to be distributed to children living in some of Ohio’s poorer areas.
Matthew Gibson, who had previously worked with Champion Foodservice on an Ohio Association of Foodbanks contract, began working with Vista this year, and wanted to take a new approach and put people to work in the process.
Tim Menke, sales manager for Lott Industries, said Gibson approached the company based on a recommendation, and submitted a bid to the state to win the contract.
“He brought the idea to us. Instead of having machines make the meals like he did last year, his idea was to hire people to hand-pack it,” Menke said.
Under the new system, meals were packed in “backpacks” — lunch bags packed with four meals and two breakfasts.
“It was easier for the volunteers on the other end to distribute the foods this way,” Menke said.
The previous packing method, done by machines, still required people to be hired to unload the meals and package them into individual containers, Menke said.
Gibson decided bringing the contract to a facility like Lott would not only allow for packaging of ready-to-open, shelf-stable meals customized for individuals, but would also provide a mutual benefit in the process.
“He loved the idea that we employ adults with developmental disabilities,” Menke said. “It kind of creates a great story all around, from our end all the way to the poor children that we’re feeding. It gave our people an opportunity to train and earn money. When it got to the food bank side, it was real simple — the kids could line up, grab a package and bring it home, without having to have all the volunteers there.”
The meals were distributed throughout Ohio during the summer. According to Menke, more than 600,000 units were shipped from Lott, which fed about 100,000 children.
“Our people absolutely loved it,” Menke said. “We’ve been looking for work opportunities, so when this contract came around we had probably 160 individuals busy every day for four straight months. Some people were earning paychecks that haven’t in quite some time.”
London Mitchell, public information manager for the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Lott Industries spokesman, said the project allowed Lott to create a healthy work environment for workers with potential behavioral issues.
“If there is an individual who may have some behavior issues, we like them to be in a room where there is maybe one staff [member] to three [workers],” he said. “We kind of customized the work that’s expected of those people based on their behavior disabilities.”
“The contract was a blessing, not only from our side, for the adults that we serve [because] they were happy to be busy,” Menke added. “They also understood that the meals that they were putting together were to help feed poor children around the state of Ohio, so they really made that connection. They were proud of what they were doing and they were happy to be working.”
With the food bank project recently completed, Menke said Lott will also work with Vista on other projects, such as packaging meals for school systems as far away as Arizona and California. He said he expects Lott’s relationship with Vista to be long-term.
“There are a lot of other opportunities we’re going to be pursuing.”