Gina Brown’s SUV has taken a beating since she joined the Mason Food Pantry three years ago.
A donation of toilet bowl cleaner spilled in her backseat, eating through the leather seats. On one hot summer day, jars of jalapeno juice leaked.
“I drove around the month of August with my car smelling like rotting trash and my eyes burning,” Brown said with a chuckle.
As the pantry’s director, Brown’s vehicle and its limited cargo space often served as the only means of transport for large donations made to the nonprofit agency, which serves more than 500 people each month.
But Brown — and her car — can now rest easy, thanks to employees at Makino USA Inc.
The Mason-based machine tool builder donated a 2008 cargo van to the pantry this week through its Lablond Foundation of Makino. The employee-funded foundation will distribute more than $70,000 to 32 area agencies this year.
The donation came about after Makino employees organized a volunteer day at the pantry. Brown mentioned the pantry’s need for a van in passing to Service Parts Manager Mike Fleming, who also chairs the foundation.
A van, she told Fleming, would allow the pantry to accept and transport large-scale donations made by businesses — donations she’s had to pass up in the past due to limited means of transport.
“When we get these calls they have to be taken out of warehouses right away so they can make room for inventory,” explained Brown of corporate donations. “It’s been a logistical nightmare with not having the right-sized van.”
“I’ve had to turn down 2,000 pounds of lunchmeat, which would have fed over 1,600 families. That’s $15,000 in lunchmeat. The lunchmeat was good, but I didn’t have a vehicle I could have that much food in,” she said.
Fleming went to Makino CEO Don Lane, who agreed to donate funds toward the purchase of a company customer support van coming off lease. The company’s corporate leasing agent, Cincinnati-based Mike Albert, gave them a “sweetheart of a deal” on the purchase of the van, he said.
Fleming approached Brown and offered to pay half of the van’s cost. Brown readily agreed.
But at the foundation’s annual luncheon on Nov. 9, Fleming surprised Brown by donating the cost of the van in full.
The surprises didn’t end there.
Makino employees competed internally to see which department could fill the van with the most amount of donated food, personal care products and supplies.
The company’s graphics department detailed the van with the Mason Food Pantry logo and employees took an afternoon off to hand-wax, polish, shampoo and clean it. And after the luncheon, employees unloaded the van and stocked food pantry shelves.
“She was stunned,” said Fleming of Brown’s reaction. “In the entire time I’ve known Gina, it was the third time she’s never had anything to say. It was a pretty cool day.”
The van not only allows the pantry to accept more donations, it also adds legitimacy to the organization and serves as a “roving billboard,” said Brown.
“It just blows your mind that someone would truly care that much and have a heart,” she said. “Christmas came early for us.”