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Combining Forces to Deliver Gratitude for Frontline Responders

This is a special post written by John Kitchens, Corporate Citizenships Director at CSX, with perspectives from Bryan Tucker, Vice President of Corporate Communications at CSX, and Tom Livingston, Head of State Government Relations and Community Affairs at CSX. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation in early 2020, we at CSX turned to our trusted partner, Operation Gratitude, to determine how our Jacksonville-based transportation company could join forces with theirs to meaningfully connect with the country’s new frontline responders.

As Corporate Citizenship director at CSX, I manage relationships with multiple nonprofit partners for Pride in Service – our ongoing initiative to honor and serve our nation’s military, veterans, and first responders – of which Operation Gratitude is a key partner. While the pandemic became an ever-changing challenge for the country, we quickly realized that our partnership model – which centered on in-person volunteerism and care package assembly – would need to pivot…quickly.

We had events already scheduled with our partners and plans to thank first responder agencies throughout the course of the year. As we began canceling these events, one by one, it was heartbreaking!

Thankfully, the Operation Gratitude team responded to the call of duty by suggesting we become a founding partner of their National Coalition to Support COVID-19 Frontline Responders, which now serves hospital workers in addition to first responders. As our involvement evolved, we focused on four areas where we could effectively lend support — funding, transportation, relationships, and virtual volunteerism.

We decided our first critical area of support should be funding, and we jumped at the opportunity to reallocate support from in-person events toward delivering ‘jumbo care packages’ to hard-hit communities. From my perspective, as a funding partner, this decision was simple. We would continue to positively impact community heroes, expanding our Pride in Service vision to those on the evolving frontlines.

CSX families and Operation Gratitude written letters of gratitude to COVID-19 first responders.

When I connected with Bryan Tucker, vice president of Corporate Communications for CSX, to discuss the re-imagined approach for our partnership, we unlocked the second critical area of support — transportation.

Here’s how Bryan describes the idea coming together:

“Not only did supporting the Coalition make sense from a community investment and a social impact perspective, but it also made sense given our business and access to intermodal transportation services.

In speaking with Operation Gratitude, we recognized that their warehouse is on the West Coast, yet there were many deserving hospital workers and first responders in the east that we serve every day. We wanted to be helpful in transporting these bulk shipments to hard-hit hospitals, National Guard units, law enforcement officers, and firefighters. Together, we mobilized our intermodal team to identify containers headed back to key cities to defray shipping costs.

Once we were able to deliver these jumbo care packages — essentially door to door — not only was the cycle of impact completed, but the story came full-circle. Operation Gratitude brought the mission and vision, corporate Coalition partners provided much-needed products, and we were proud to transport them.

Getting the story out in the local press and on social media brought to light the sacrifice of our frontline heroes, showcased the need for civilian and corporate support, and affirmed Operation Gratitude as a national nonprofit leader.”

Healthcare workers in Philadelphia, PA receiving the jumbo care boxes after being delivered by CSX.

Mobilizing our transportation and logistics support was a partnership highlight. But even with the overwhelming support of our leadership team, there was still more to do. We worked closely with the Coalition to prioritize supply requests, but we also needed connections to local law enforcement agencies, hospitals, and city officials.

This is when we turned to our government affairs leaders and special agents within our own CSX police force to activate the third area of support — relationships. Enter Tom Livingston, head of State Government and Community Affairs. Tom played a central role in supporting a particularly large-scale effort in Chicago.

He shared his perspective on the effort:

“When I was approached for the opportunity to support Operation Gratitude’s efforts in Chicago, I was humbled and excited. It’s not every day you’re able to play a part in providing unique, and quite necessary, support for your hometown while also showing solidarity and support for the men and women responding to a global pandemic.

Our special agents work very closely with Chicago PD and Chicago FD. And our rail lines run next door to some of the hospitals in the city’s COVID-19 hot spots. These agencies and hospitals are our neighbors and friends. It was a great honor to connect with them and directly thank our frontline workers for their local service.”

Tom Livingston and the Chicago PD presenting these supplies to the first responders in the city of Chicago.

Tom’s support in Chicago and his colleagues’ similar support in other communities brings me to our fourth and final area of support — virtual volunteerism. While the Coalition worked on making deliveries, CSX employees — along with those at other Coalition partners — wrote letters of gratitude to accompany the shipments. These heartfelt letters and pictures are often the most meaningful tokens of our appreciation, so we are grateful for the Americans that continue to help Operation Gratitude in this way.

What started as a well-planned calendar of events for 2020, quickly became a fast-moving, multi-dimensional opportunity for an even bigger, more cross-function, and frankly more meaningful, effort than we could have imagined. With Operation Gratitude — through a combination of funding, transportation, relationships, and virtual volunteerism — we supported the delivery of critical supplies and gifts of gratitude to first responder agencies and hospital teams in several cities including Jacksonville, Fla.; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia, and Allentown, Pa.; and Chicago.

At CSX, we’re grateful for the impact we’ve been able to make possible with Operation Gratitude, and we’re excited for our continued partnership through Pride in Service. Together, we’ll continue to support the nation’s military, national guardsmen, first responder communities, and today’s frontline workers!

To find out more about our impact together and COVID-19 response, check out the video below!

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