After experiencing fire and tornado drills throughout my life at school and at work, hearing another fire alarm seemed like an ordinary disruption to my daily workday. So when the alarms went off, I glanced at my keys and then at my purse and thought, “Nah, I’ll just take my phone so I can surf facebook when I’m outside.” Little did I, or many of my coworkers realize, that this was the real deal.
It was unbelievable to watch the smoke billowing from the roof and even more unbelievable to see the flames tear apart what once was the Human Resources Department and Management Team offices. Firefighters struggled to access the slow-burning chaos that ensued within the walls of our headquarters. Although most were encouraged to clear the area and carpool with those lucky enough to grab their keys, I stayed late that evening. I wanted to see what would happen, and despite the overwhelming feeling of helplessness, I wanted to be supportive in any way possible.
The firefighters were struggling. Their fire axes could not break through the glass windows. After hours, the roof finally caved in and the windows burst, allowing firefighters to access the west wing of the building. And so with these efforts, and a hose in the gambrel, they were finally able to take a strong hold against the swelling heat and smoke inside. Their fight would continue into early Wednesday morning.
In the mean time, I left with my mom – whom I have the utmost pride in – Louise Hemstead, the Chief Operating Officer of CROPP Cooperative. It was hard to watch the emotion across her face as she came to terms with what had just happened. She has been with the co-op for 20 years this June and like many croppies, CROPP is more than just a business, it’s a way of life; a part of our hearts.
We drove to the farm, to pick up a change of clothes, and my spare car keys, and then headed back to CROPP Main, where Louise’s office used to preside in the early days. There, a group, led by Jerry McGeorge, had already established a meeting to strategize, prioritize, and act. It was truly breathtaking to watch the people that I have had the honor to grow up with, take action in a crippling time. Through both arguments and collaboration, this group of leaders took charge and did what had to be done in the moment, putting their emotions aside. I was truly proud to see my mom among that group.
Following that first day, I have been bombarded with e-mails, phone calls, and face-to-face generosity. The outpouring of giving by our community and farmers, both local and across the nation, is more meaningful than words can say. All of us who work for CROPP have experienced this and feel a powerful stirring in our hearts that will continue to push us forward. I am so lucky, and so proud, to not only have grown up with CROPP Cooperative as a farm kid and employee’s daughter, but also to now work there.