Ending the year by spreading good cheer
Our employees are frontline heroes, delivering the goods and materials that keep our economy and way of life on track. But some are superheroes, supporting the communities where we live and work, especially when times are tough.
Even during one of our busiest seasons of the year, when we’re rushing packages across the country for the holidays, our people are finding ways to give back. Here’s a sampling of how BNSF employees are making a difference in the many places we call home.
Safety is part of every conversation that we have at BNSF, and our Safety teams regularly meet to discuss and celebrate safety in the workplace.
In November, as the “Peak” holiday shipping season approached, the Safety Team at Amarillo held a Safety Feed, which is a time to eat and discuss safety together. The team planned to serve 1,000 employees a hamburger meal over 36 hours.
As the session wound down, Safety Leader Randy Tapp realized there would be a lot of leftovers. He and others put their heads together for a place to donate meals, and one – switchman John Lyon – recommended the Maverick Boys & Girls Club of Amarillo, a long-time neighbor near the BNSF terminal.
Tapp made his way to the club and told them there was enough to feed 100 if they were interested. As it turns out, his timing was perfect; the kids get a meal daily – and they needed enough for 100.
“The club’s CEO was ecstatic, so we grilled and readied 100 cheeseburgers and delivered them just as the buses were arriving for the after-school care program,” said Tapp. “They were so appreciative and excited. We also had leftover toboggans (winter hats) so we gave them out as well.”
The story doesn’t end with the meal and hats. Tapp was tapped by the club CEO to serve on their safety committee, given his work with the railroad. He’s already begun a site security improvement project and plans to visit the club regularly.
“The kids could really benefit from having a male figure around, and I try to go as often as I can,” he said. “I’ve heard they call me Mr. Hamburger.”
New Westminster, British Columbia
Senior Special Agent Dan Ritchie’s job includes patrolling the 40 miles of BNSF tracks from the U.S. border north to Vancouver, British Columbia. Many homeless people set up camp along our tracks there, so he and other agents must keep railroad property secure while ensuring homeless individuals stay away from tracks and trains for their own safety.
But Ritchie takes extra measures to keep them even more safe.
“I’ve worked with the homeless and the drug-addicted and seen their plight,” said the 45-year railroad veteran. “You can’t begin to think about getting your life in order when you’ve got an empty stomach.” That’s why he stocks his vehicle with food his wife prepares, plus jackets and other winterwear.
When temperatures really drop, he gives out a wearable sleeping bag. The coat/bag is professionally made and provided to Ritchie by his church, which also supplies him with much of his giveaways.
“Whenever I find a homeless person in need, I will gift them one,” he said of this unique weather-resistant garment. Inside the pockets there are snacks, gloves, a scarf and hat. “They may see me first as a police officer, but once we visit and they understand that I’m there to help, they’re very kind and appreciative.”
Ritchie also passes on contacts of public shelters and government agencies. “It’s about giving hope,” he added. “That’s what this season is really about.”
As the holidays approached last year, Romeo Botelua, roadmaster, thought if there was ever a time to do a little something extra for employees, it was 2020. So, he paid for and gave out turkeys to his crew of about 25 people.
This year, Botelua and the team, who maintain and repair track in and around Oklahoma City, agreed they would instead donate turkeys to those who really need them. They didn’t have to look far for an agency to support. Right across the street is a food bank.
“Guthrie is a small town with some senior folks in need,” said Botelua. “I understand what it’s like to be in a tough spot, and I’ve done different drives in the past. I have known and seen what a difference it makes to give back.”
Employees could either donate turkeys or money. When everything was collected, they had 68 birds to donate and they spent a half day restocking or passing out food to clients. “Everyone was open and willing to help,” said Botelua. “As a team, it helped us to refocus. Sometimes we overlook the blessings in our lives, but at the end of the day, we are able to provide for our families.”
Belen and Clovis, New Mexico; El Paso, Texas
On BNSF’s Southwest Division, covering portions of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, our employees run trains on our busy Southern Transcon route and also provide toys and togetherness to their communities.
The toy collection benefits Salvation Army Angel Tree programs in Clovis, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. At Belen, New Mexico, employees are donating toys, gifts and supplies to clients at the Valencia Shelter Services, an advocacy organization serving individuals and families in crisis.
And while employees are the ones doing the organizing, buying and donating, they’re also benefitting.
“As a member of the division’s Diversity Council, I wanted to provide an opportunity to bring our people together,” said Joe Irelan, senior trainmaster/road foreman of engines, and organizer. “The council agreed having these at major points on the division would be a great platform.”
Everyone on the council stepped up and promoted the program to all departments so it wasn’t just one group doing all the giving. “We let each terminal do their own thing,” said Irelan, who lives in Clovis and has seen families in need.
Even with a large territory to cover, word got out. Within days of launch, all the angel wish lists had been fulfilled and the Salvation Army was able to add more.
“It’s all about giving – but the biggest win is bringing everyone together,” Irelan said, adding: “Everyone who comes to drop off gifts is wearing a big smile. This just brings so much positivity, plus a better workplace and community.”
Fort Worth, Texas
For nearly two decades, our headquarters employees have helped meet the needs and wishes of children and seniors as part of the Salvation Army Angel Program in North Texas. While the program is about fulfilling holiday wishes, it also combats homelessness.
“Parents and caregivers want so badly to provide gifts for their children,” said BNSF Angel Program co-chair Lisa Cassidy, manager, Sales. “But many are living paycheck to paycheck. If they have to choose between buying gifts or paying rent or the utility bill, that can lead them to needing resources come January.”
Cassidy and co-chair Deanna Brice, assistant manager, Marketing Support, begin organizing the collection in October. Typically, Christmas trees festooned with angel wish list “tags” are placed throughout the campus. After adopting an angel in need, employees return their bagged gifts, with some volunteering to assist in the gift distribution.
While undertaking this program is something of a part-time job, said Brice, the rewards trump the work. “I like to imagine on Christmas morning all the angels unwrapping and playing with their gifts and the parents or caregivers watching with joy – and no stress.”