By CARL GREEN
Granite City, IL – There weren’t any bells ringing, but the feeling was all there.
This industrial city has taken some of the hardest punches that the economy can dish out, but it seemed more like Whoville after the Grinch’s visit on Dec. 15 as the community rallied to make sure its families would have a great Christmas.
News that Granite City Steel would bring back about 220 workers in February gave people hope, although the cold reality was that at least 1,000 more won’t be back, at least not yet.
But at the Granite City Township Building downtown, hope came in the form of food – all kinds of holiday foods for the families of laid off steelworkers. There were eggs, chicken, juice, fruit, granola, sweet potatoes, bananas, apples and more. People were sent through the line twice and came out with as much as they could carry.
Meanwhile, over at the Tri-Cities Labor Temple, home of the United Steel Workers locals, families were being given $50 in Target gift cards per child, courtesy of the Simmons Hanly Conroy law firm in a project called, simply, Gift Cards for Kids.
Many of the steelworkers have been laid off for a year or more, but nobody was complaining, and smiles were plentiful at both events.
A FOOD RALLY
Jeff Rains, president of the USW SOAR retirees chapter, said the idea for the food rally at the Township building presented itself a few weeks ago after a SOAR trivia fund-raiser brought in more money than the group had promised, leaving it with about $1,500 for holiday food baskets.
But that was just the starting point. Rains brought aboard the TWIGS children’s feeding program, the Madison County Circuit Court Clerk’s office and then the United Way, which in turn brought in the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
Using a truck provided by Accountant Scott Oney, the Foodbank sent more fresh produce than Rains had thought was possible.
“This thing just went nuts,” he said. “They just overwhelmed us. We were able to give out way more than we thought we would. They are coming out of the woodwork to help us.”
The event lasted from noon to 5 p.m. and served about 500 families. In addition to the food, each family received $50 in gift cards from Shop ‘n’ Save and VISA.
And rather than make anyone prove they were in need, the SOAR givers took the small-town approach and helped anyone who asked. Rains noted that the city’s laid-off steelworkers aren’t all employed by U.S. Steel – about 300 are laid off from Amsted Rail in the city.
Over at the union hall, members talked about their hopes for going back to work while in line for the gift cards from the Simmons law firm. About 300 families signed up to receive the cards.
Steelworker Robert Mink said the announcement of 220 workers returning has given him some hope. He has kids ages 8 and 18.
“With everything that’s been put into place, it’s a first step,” he said. “It’s really looking better.”
John Richardson, an attorney for the Simmons law firm, said the card event was a fitting gesture. “We represent union families all across the country, so we’re just happy to help,” he said.
It’s already been a busy holiday season for the firm. At Thanksgiving, employees at the Alton office collected 25,834 pounds of food in the 10th annual Simmons Employee Foundation Food Drive. The food was given to five food pantries, following $1,000 donations to each pantry from the Foundation in October. The pantries were the Crisis Food Center and the Salvation Army in Alton, Community Hope Center in Cottage Hills, Helping Hands Food Pantry in Collinsville and the Community Care Center in Granite City.
Holly Allen, social services director for the Salvation Army, said the help came during a slow year for donations. “To have businesses such as Simmons Hanly Conroy go out of their way to make large donations such as these, we are so grateful,” she said. The gift allowed the agency to provide families with complete Thanksgiving dinners.
“We believe in supporting the communities we call home, and we hope our neighbors and their families are able to eat well and enjoy the holiday season,” firm Chairman John Simmons said. Company offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco also ran food drives, benefiting local pantries and soup kitchens.