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We’ve Got This: When Your Job Skills Make You Valuable in a Disaster

By Beth Harris
September 25, 2017
Truck driving through Houston for Hurricane Harvey relief

We’ve all had situations where quick judgment is needed, and we jump right in and everything comes together so naturally.

You’ve got this. It’s second nature to you.

That’s exactly what it was like for the people who manage Walmart’s warehouses and private truck fleet, particularly a handful of distribution center (DC) managers, when they jumped in to help the American Red Cross during recent natural disasters. They work with supply chain challenges every day – from rerouting trucks and managing inventory of millions of items to leading large teams working toward a single purpose. They are uniquely qualified to manage through the stress and constant changes of an event like a hurricane.

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, many of the people working in relief centers are volunteers, and they usually have little to no warehouse or inventory experience. To a DC manager, it’s all second nature, so many of them are ready to offer suggestions on the most efficient ways to get supplies to the people who need it most.

I talked with several of our DC managers who helped after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. They all mentioned how proud they were to put their skills to work for a good cause, turning something they’re good at into a very valuable disaster relief tool.

To Gina Bood, DC manager in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, Hurricane Harvey hit home. She grew up in the Houston area and, with a lifelong passion to serve others, immediately wanted to help. She packed up to stay with her dad in Beaumont, Texas, and help at the Red Cross distribution center there. She was only there 24 hours before the Red Cross put her in charge. She helped load and send out trucks every day, taking manual inventory of the products arriving and leaving.

Anna Krajewski, DC general manager in Moberly, Missouri, helped set up the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. She volunteered to help because she feels like she’s been given a lot of great opportunities in this country. Anna emigrated from Poland in 2002, and talked about her appreciation for the opportunities both the U.S. and Walmart have provided her. If there’s one thing she knew, it was how to move freight. So she jumped in to coordinate shipments between the DCs and the convention center.

Anthony Warren, DC receiving area manager in Clarksville, Arkansas, used his experience from Walmart and his former career at a nonprofit organization to set up a cleaning kit assembly line. He brought in several rollers typically used to unload trucks to create a makeshift conveyor belt. To stay productive while waiting on the rollers to arrive, he worked with the Texas State Guard to form an assembly line. The soldiers gathered the kits so quickly, they soon ran out of items to make them.

Anthony’s setup was so efficient that Paul McAneny, DC assistant general manager in Brooksville, Florida, was asked to replicate it in an Orlando Red Cross facility. Before Paul came to Walmart, he spent 27 years in the military working with organizations like the Red Cross. It’s unusual for a volunteer team to operate a task of that size and scope. But because Paul found himself with a group who had terrific enthusiasm and work ethic, he used his knowledge of warehouse management to help them get the freight flow and inventories right.

Mike Harris, quality assurance operations manager in Sealy, Texas, was familiar with using third-party offsite storage facilities as part of Walmart’s supply chain. When the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas was overloaded with donations, Mike worked with the Dallas mayor’s office to quickly find an alternate storage location and coordinate the trucks to relocate the products.

Willingness to help: It’s just what these associates do. To everyone who helped during these storms, thanks for your passion and for giving your time and skills in a way few others can.