Blog | December 19, 2018

Holiday Giving Part Four: Lead Battery Industry Helps Power Toyland

Flow-Rite employees (L-R) Bridget Conley, Shannon Warren (red shirt) and Tim Pitcher with volunteers from SpartanNash, a national food distributor, sort the thousands of toys filling the company’s warehouse.

What outshines holiday lights? A child’s face as he or she tears opens a colorfully wrapped holiday gift in waiting. We hope you’ll enjoy reading this last in a four-part series on how lead battery manufacturers and recyclers are spreading such happiness, near and far.

Flow-Rite Controls: Making Space for Santa’s Workshop

When Shae Hickman, human resource director at Flow-Rite Controls, saw a Facebook post saying that just weeks from Christmas the local Toys for Tots program was in jeopardy, she jumped into action. Hickman felt confident that Flow-Rite, based in West Michigan, had a solution to the looming gloom.

From October through December each year, the popular U.S. Marine Corps Reserve toy collection program is a beacon for collecting toys and holiday gifts for less-fortunate children. In early November, the Kent County’s Toys for Tots program was still looking for 20,000 square feet of warehouse space to serve as a collection and distribution center. Hickman knew that Flow-Rite had the space and spoke with members of the company’s senior leadership team. Their answer: Yes!

The anonymous big-box building in Bryon Center, Mich., usually provides warehouse space for fluid control systems that keep batteries performing at peak function. From the outside, it doesn’t look like a toy store. But inside, it rivals Santa’s workshop, with volunteers busily sorting toys for 10,000 kids in the community. Some employee volunteers have signed up to staff the facility into the evening hours and help with toy drop-offs. As Christmas approaches, parents can also come in and “shop” the warehouse to personally match a special gift to their child.

Flow-Rite employees Roxy Perkins and Tim Pitcher help Santa check his list with a toy inspection.

Flow Rite’s marketing duo, Bridget Conley and Shannon Warren, shared their excitement about the project. “We always participate in the drive by hosting a box for toy drop-offs,” Conley said. “But this year, we’re doing it on a much larger scale.” Involvement in previous years has been to collect toys and financial donations for gift cards, with some departments taking an afternoon to buy as many toys as possible. They’ve also collected pop cans for cash to fund toy purchases.

Conley said Flow-Rite has been very fortunate to host the center and the massive operation. “It was such an easy ‘yes’ for us. It’s crazy in the back with all the boxes, but crazy in a good way.”

Remy Battery: Ensuring Toys Can Go the Distance

“Batteries not included” is a phrase too often read on Christmas morning, turning a child’s excitement to frowns and tears. For many families, making a quick battery run is as easy as holiday pie. But for the less fortunate, it’s another obstacle to overcome.

That’s why Remy Battery in Wisconsin is supporting Toys for Tots, making sure toys are fully operational when opened. Remy Battery President Mike Moeller said the company wants to help ensure all kids have a happy holiday.

Remy Battery employees (L-R) Tony Lombardo, Tanya Schneeberger and Randy Skonieczny helped select batteries for the local Toys for Tots collection drive.

“Often, we can get caught up with spreading holiday cheer only to the people we see on Christmas morning. There are too many kids that just don’t have that blessing in their lives. Everyone has abilities that they can use to give to others. Remy wants to give in the best way we can, according to our abilities.”

Remy has been a Milwaukee-based family-owned company providing batteries and battery related supplies since 1931. Their primary business is batteries for automotive, marine and motorcycles. Yet, as Moeller noted, small AA and AAA batteries are required in more gifts than most people realize. From toy pianos to learning toys and games, many gifts don’t include batteries or only include the bare minimum needed. This leaves the child with a toy that either doesn’t operate or only has enough power for short-lived fun. By donating smaller batteries to Toys for Tots, Remy hopes to make the holidays a little brighter – and longer lasting.

In a further commitment to the community’s youth, Remy has donated a 400-amp NOCO jump starter pack to Genesee Lake School to be auctioned as part of the school’s fundraising drive. The school is nationally recognized for its dedication to improving the lives of children, adolescents and young adults with developmental disabilities, mental health disorders, neurological disorders, and/or emotional disturbances.

Exide Technologies:  Supporting Santa’s Harley Sleigh

Exide’s Michael Bergman, a.k.a. Mr. Toy Man delivering toys to some of this year’s recipients.

Exide Technologies knows that when someone has a great idea, good things can happen if you let them run with it. The Milton, Ga., battery manufacturer provides more than just transportation batteries for cars, boats, heavy duty vehicles, golf carts and other machines. It helps power one employee’s Harley Davidson motorcycle that doubles as a supercharged version of Santa’s sleigh.

It began with a news report in 1994 heard by Michael Bergen, a 27-year veteran at Exide’s Kansas City, Kan., plant. The City Union Mission in Wyandotte County had been broken into and all the Christmas toys stolen. Bergen went into action. He asked coworkers to help, and within 30 minutes, he had collected nearly $400 for the Union Mission. That was just the beginning of Bergen’s Hands to Hearts organization. Twenty-four years later, it delivers nearly 6,000 holiday toys to children in Missouri and Kansas – primarily schools in low-economic areas – and several Native American reservations.

It’s hard to know whether this young lady is more excited about her new doll or getting to meet Michael Bergen, the “Toy Man” and founder of Hands to Heart.

“It’s Christmas, man. Getting together, putting smiles on little kids’ faces. Children are what it’s about. When the kids receive their toy and you see their smiles, it melts your heart,” said Bergen, who holds motorcycle rides to collect toys and funds. Instead of charging an entry fee for the rides, participants donate toys or money for the organization. These “Night Train Runs” are typically held twice a year.

Bergen has made quite an impact on his community and is often referred to as the “Toy Man.” In 2015 he was named one of the top three “20 Kindest Kansas Citizens.” Hands to Heart also delivers gifts year round to children whose families have suffered from house fires, domestic violence, unemployment, natural disasters and other tragedies.

“Exide applauds Mike’s dedication to this mission,” said Troy Livingston, Exide plant manager. “We’re pleased to support him with the time off needed to deliver the presents. Our plant employees and management pitch in by donating and delivering gifts. He makes us all proud.”

On December 12, Bergen’s wife, Chris, provided an update on this year’s giving, saying that over 800 kids had been given toys that day. “Overall, we’re at almost 5,000 toys just at the schools alone and over 2,000 at the reservations!” She added that there are times the Toy Man gets tired, “But when you see the kids’ faces when they receive their toy, it makes it all worthwhile.”

The Toy Woman, Michael’s wife Chris, pictured with a student from East High School.

 Join the Village

By sharing these stories, members of the lead battery industry hope to inspire other companies to give generously to their communities throughout the year. Check out other inspirational stories in our Holiday Giving posts below.

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Chris Pruitt

It absolutely makes economic sense to create a sustainable product with a circular life cycle…

Chris Pruitt, CEO and President, East Penn Manufacturing