Natural Gas workers give back to provide meals in Michigan neighborhoods

It might have been cold and snowy outside, but Debbie Bentley was greeted with warmth when she opened her front door.

Waiting for her were the smiling faces of Consumers Energy Gas Construction Operations crew members, who were there to deliver a turkey and enough sides to prepare a full Thanksgiving meal.

For almost a decade, the Gas Construction team has visited Michigan neighborhoods each November to deliver turkeys and sides to thank residents for their patience with gas construction in their area.

The effort is entirely employee driven and the team has raised nearly $130,000 since it began in 2013, allowing for almost 4,800 meals to be distributed.

This year, the team travelled to Bay City, Flint, Lansing and Westland to deliver meals in neighborhoods where gas lines had been upgraded as part of efforts to modernize infrastructure to improve safety and reliability. More than 500 meals were handed out.

Making an Impact for Those in Need

The effort has had bigger impacts beyond thanking residents for enduring any inconveniences while construction work was taking place earlier in the year. It also provides a way to give back to families who might not otherwise be able to afford the holiday meal.

Bentley said she was taken aback by the gesture from gas construction crew members who were travelling her Lansing neighborhood to deliver meals.

She said before the team knocked at her door, she wasn’t sure how she and her boyfriend would be able to afford a Thanksgiving dinner to feed their 10 children. Despite working six days a week, it was still difficult to make ends meet. Now, she said, they would be set for the holiday.

“It means a lot. Beyond a lot,” said Bentley after wiping away tears and hugging crew members to share her gratitude. “I was so surprised.”

Chris Fultz, vice president of Gas Operations, said he was proud of the Gas Construction team, who work hard each year to serve their communities and help those in need.

“It’s great to see everyone get together to give back and it exemplifies the pride we have in what we do in Gas Construction,” said Fultz, who joined the team in Lansing to package and hand out meals. “It’s a privilege to be part of it.”

Randy Koerber, gas lines construction worker in Gas Operations Safety, said the initiative started as a way to thank residents in need in areas where construction had taken place. It has grown since then.

“We wanted to take this to an area where it would have the biggest impact, and for everyone, we just want to say ‘Thank you,’” said Koerber, who lead this year’s initiative and has been involved since 2014. “We leave a footprint of construction behind us until it gets restored. We build relationships out there every day and we try to build good relationships.”

The initiative started with about 40 employees. Now it has grown to about 500 employees involved, he said.

“The best part is the reaction from residents and customers who are so moved because they didn’t know how they were going to get their Thanksgiving dinner,” he said. “They are floored.”

For Kori Jo Bennett, Gas Construction Operations manager, the best part has been the opportunity to give back.

“I just thought ‘What an amazing thing to do,’” said Bennett, who has participated in the effort for the last three years. “We feel the price increases, but we’re so blessed to have the jobs we have. Not everyone can afford to feed their families. I’m proud and honored to be part of this team.”

Chris Bilinski was surprised to see the crew back in the neighborhood, but they were a welcome sight. Earlier in the year, gas construction employees working on his street ran to help his sister, who had fallen outside and they hadn’t forgotten the quick, compassionate action.

He said he was grateful for the unexpected gift, too.

“A full turkey dinner is pretty awesome,” he said. “I feel very appreciative.”

Getting Help This Winter

If you or someone you know could use some extra help this winter, check out the following resources: