business matters
RPP Products in Zelienople is manufacturing and donating hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Companies, employees give back to community

Ask Bill Jones why he and his company are so generous with their profits.

The first thing Jones, president and CEO, will tell you is it's not his company.

Penn United Technologies in Cabot belongs to its employees, and it's the employee/owners that give to the Salvation Army-Butler Corps to the tune of close to $21,000, and Children's Hospital, which received a check for about $80,000 this year.

In both donations, half came from the employees and the company matched the funds. It's the employee/owners that give grants throughout the year and boxes of food at Christmas to local families in need.

Everything is local, from the purchasing to the giving. In fact, talking to Jones, you hear the word, “community,” often.

“That really is the foundation of Penn United: employee/owners giving back to the community at large,” Jones said.

Give through deduction

Employees have the opportunity to give through payroll deduction. There are food drives and fundraisers and, in good years, employee/owners donate their time to help clean public facilities such as playgrounds. There is also a Penn United Foundation, which gives out the big checks.

“That's all employee-based,” Jones said.

Jones is part of a committee comprised of board members who oversee the gifting. He also has his own discretionary fund that he uses for other local purchases, such as computers for small Christian schools and funds to police forces, among others.

Jones said he learned generosity by watching and learning from his father, Carl Jones, one of the three founders of Penn United, and it has become a way of life for him.

“Well, personally, I think that's what we're supposed to do: give back to the community,” Jones said. “I learned that from Dad and several others. One of our founding (goals) here at Penn United is Dad wanted for us to be an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan), because he did not want to be the sole owner. He did not want to be just the person that receives from everyone's hard work. He wanted everyone to be able to enjoy a good retirement from their hard work.

“That's why he created ESOP. We're the second ESOP in Pennsylvania, the first one in Western Pennsylvania, in 1974.”

There are other business owners who do things differently, and that's fine, Jones said, but driving thought is this: “If we don't give back to other people and community, what good is it?”

Gives back to community

Penn United isn't the only area company that gives back to the community, however. The greedy, faceless big business might exist but in Butler County, companies are finding ways to make life better for the people who live here, and not just in a small way. From supplying (expensively-trained) service dogs to making sure there's enough food for hungry children and hand sanitizer to keep the community safe, Butler County companies know their way around a gift. Armstrong Cable and RRP Industries are just two that are sharing a bit of their efforts.

Eric Swagart, the CEO of RRP Products in Zelienople has stepped in during these trying times. Sure, his company gives to the United Way, to homeless shelters, and food banks, but these days he's really into hand sanitizers, giving out pallets of the germ-killing stuff. He is particularly interested in making sure the homeless are protected from Covid-19 germs.

“In general, however this covid thing goes over, it just struck us that that's where we need to focus our help, on sanitizing folks that don't have even a home, let alone the different products they need,” Swagart said.

Swagart said he is mindful of the fact that he has enough and wants others to benefit, too.

“In my mind, it's giving back. I've always been one of those owners that feel like you get what you give,” he said. “You want to be able to take things forward…and in terms of local donations, we want to help and bring up and foster a good community…and we want to bring communities up that we move into.”

To that end, Swagart said there is still hand sanitizer available he might be willing to part with at the lowest cost possible.

“Anybody that's actually buying the stuff might as well buy it locally,” he said. However, “if you're a 501c organization and you could use some sanitizer in the Butler area or in the Western PA area, we can also work something out and try to get you some donations.”

For 10 years now, Armstrong Group here in Butler has been feeding the hungry in this community with its Breaking Bread initiative. According to Daneen O'Donnell, Armstrong's community marketing manager, the need for this has only ramped up.

“Right now, especially, there are so many more unexpected people who are food insecure, some who have lost jobs during the pandemic. There are families who may be down one income who have had essential jobs taken away,” O'Donnell said.

Armstrong works hard to educate the public about food insecurity using social media such as Facebook and podcasts, and television, but what is really effective is the shopping cart and pig bank in the office of Armstrong on Benbrook Road, where subscribers go to pay their bills. Not surprisingly, donations are rolling in this year.

“I think donations are up, interestingly,” O'Donnell said. “I have not seen a decrease in giving in our office at all. I can tell you that we take a van full of food once a month to the food bank and it's usually not under 200 items, so people have been generous in bringing their food.”However, the times have brought along its own problem.

“The tough part these days has been the volunteering,” O'Donnell said. “I know that many of the food banks have struggled with the volunteers. One reason is that many of the volunteers are older and they're afraid to go out.”

Here in Butler there is a free meal available every night of the week. Because of the pandemic the food is packaged and handed out. O'Donnell said local food banks are also short of volunteers. Armstrong is stepping in with its own workforce to cover the unavailable volunteers.

“Armstrong tries to send people to help with those kinds of things,” she said. “We try to fill in the gaps. We try to encourage people to volunteer on their own time. We try to spread that word.”

The other big initiative that Armstrong supports is called Healing Heroes. They work in partnership with Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, an organization that pairs service dogs with disabled veterans. This is no small task since it can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars to train a dog. This year Armstrong successfully raised enough money to pair two veterans with dogs and the search is on to find more disabled veterans who would like to be paired with their own dog, and it doesn't even have to be an Armstrong customer. Find the application on this link: http://www.medicalservicedogs.org/service-dog-application.