UniFirst gives big in season of giving

Photo submitted UniFirst Corp. employee Tyler Smiley helps with a shipment of new clothes headed to homeless shelters, clothes closets and other nonprofits that serve low-income people across Kentucky. UniFirst donated more than 79,000 items worth more than $2 million to the United Way of the Ohio Valley.

'Tis the season for giving, and UniFirst Corp. is doing it in spades this holiday season.

On Wednesday, the company, which provides corporate attire and customized work uniform programs, plans to complete the second phase of a donation totaling at least 79,000 items worth more than $2 million.

The merchandise comes from UniFirst's Owensboro distribution center and includes shirts of all types, work pants, jeans, coveralls, safety apparel, hats, belts and backpacks.

Every item is new, undamaged and ready to wear.

The shipment will head to homeless shelters and other nonprofits -- in Owensboro, the region and beyond -- that serve people in need.

"UniFirst has blessed many, many people by its donations," said Gwen Bennett, founder of Shepherd's Hand clothing ministry.

The company hasdonated clothes to the Owensboro ministry for the past three years, Bennett said. "I try to be a good steward of what they send to us."

A shipment totaling 79,000 pieces -- even divided into two shipments -- is too large for Shepherd's Hand, which operates out of about 6,000 square feet in Good Shepherd Church on Bittel Road. Bennett sorts through the items and takes what she needs for local schools, shelters and other ministries.

That way, local needs are met first.

Then, the remaindergoes to God's Outreach, an Owensboro ministry that has the storage capacity and ability to move large shipments of goods where they are needed most.

"God helps us put it where it belongs," Bennett said.

God's Outreach founder David Mudd said the first phase of the UniFirst donation this autumn helped meet local and state clothing needs and provided 26 pallets of clothes for victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.

"It's wonderful," Mudd said of UniFirst's generosity.

Giving is in UniFirst's DNA, said Dave Roberts, general manager. It's an important part of being a good corporate citizen, he said.

Besides local donations, the company supported recovery efforts in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and in the northeast after Hurricane Sandy. In the past, UniFirst has partnered with other agencies during mission work around the world.

"It just solidifies the fact that we care about our neighbors and the families we serve," Roberts said. "We care about Owensboro and the greater Owensboro community. This is one way of showing our gratitude."

The upcoming shipment and one made this autumn -- for a total of more than 79,000 items -- were funneled through United Way of the Ohio Valley. United Way acts as the middle man of sorts, partnering with God's Outreach to distribute the UniFirst donation.

"We're extremely proud to partner with UniFirst," said Blaine Mathew, United Way project coordinator, 211 specialist. "They are a large employer in our community, and it's great to see them be so community-minded ... ."

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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