Idle Toyota Employees Help Keep Local Nonprofits Humming

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May 23, 2011; Source: Lexington Herald-Leader | A shortage of parts for an auto plant in Georgetown, Ky., has produced an abundance of volunteer labor for local nonprofits. The slowdown in shipments of materials needed to build Toyota Camrys, the result of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, has forced the plant to idle its assembly lines on Mondays and Fridays and throttle back production by 50 percent on Tuesdays through Thursdays, leaving workers with plenty of time on their hands.

So rather than sit around with nothing to do or get assigned make-work projects – the plant is sticking with a pledge not to lay-off full time permanent employees – workers are volunteering to help out at local nonprofits. "It's getting tougher and tougher to find projects for all my team members," said Mark Hurt, who is a production group leader in Toyota's plastics shop. "The decision to take those eight hours and give back to the community is priceless. This is a good opportunity for everybody."

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Toyota employees have volunteered for work at Habitat for Humanity, the Boy Scouts, the Lexington Hearing & Speech Center, and Lexington Children's Theatre, among others. For one nonprofit, God's Pantry, assistance from Toyota employees has been a godsend of sorts. The nonprofit, which packs and delivers food to families in need in Central Kentucky, has seen donations from food companies slow down during the recession.

That has forced the nonprofit to buy food products in bulk at discount, and repackage them into smaller sizes – a time- and labor-consuming job. But that's also an easy task for an auto plant employee to take on. For instance on one recent morning, Toyota volunteers repacked 12,000 pounds of products before lunch. For God's Pantry, that pace was practically a miracle. Spokeswoman Mandy Brajuha predicted that by the end of the day's second shift, workers "will have done almost a month's worth of what we normally do."—Bruce Trachtenberg