Every week, about 240 families in Byron Township, Mich., get access to quality food they otherwise would not be able to afford. But this is no ordinary food pantry. It was started by Buist Electric
, Inc., a local contracting company on a mission to honor God by valuing employees and sharing resources with the community.
Larry Buist, who founded the firm in 1964, became involved with food ministry after reading about Feeding America
, a national hunger relief organization with food trucks operating in and around Grand Rapids, Mich.
“I asked one of my employees to look into the organization, and by 1 p.m. that day we had a monthly food truck scheduled,” Buist says.
The company sponsored the truck for about a year when it became clear the community’s needs were not being fully met. Though Buist knew nothing about running a food pantry, the construction industry had taught him a lot about being efficient. In 2008, he opened the Buist Community Assistance Center
in a 20-foot by 30-foot warehouse space, serving about 50 families a week.
Again, it immediately became apparent that the space was insufficient, so the company renovated a 7,000-square-foot area to house all types of groceries, personal care items and clothing.
The Community Assistance Center distributes about two million pounds of food annually. The goal is to provide each family with a week’s worth of groceries, with the pantry open during different hours each day to accommodate patrons’ schedules.
Buist gets about one-third of its food from Feeding America for an average of 11 cents per pound. The rest is gleaned from local businesses at no cost. Through these arrangements, the center’s average cost of food is less than 5 cents per pound, compared to the government average of $2.27 per pound. The lean operations extend to personnel as well. There are only one and a half paid staff members, with volunteers logging 350 hours per week.
“Many of the volunteers are retired folks or people who need to complete community service hours,” Buist says. “It’s exciting to influence the people’s lives who are working there.”
Buist also impacts the community—and its employees—through a corporate foundation established 15 years ago. The foundation started as a scrap copper collection, with funds channeled to community members that need help paying for medical bills, utilities, and home and auto repairs. In addition to about $300,000 worth of scrap copper collected annually, Buist receives employee donations (and matches those with corporate donations).
The company pays two part-time case managers to respond to assistance requests. Larger donations, including scholarships for local students, are approved by a board of eight employees who serve three-year terms. Overhead costs are minimal, and all publicity is achieved through word of mouth.
“We’re not a bottom line-driven company. We try to be a giving company,” Buist says. “When we value not only our employees, but also others in our community, it changes how employees act and deal with customers. We have been successful with that philosophy.”