Keeping America fed during the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of heroic, and Iowa pig farmers want employees at pork-processing plants to know that their work is appreciated.
As COVID-19 began making its way across the nation earlier this year, panicked shoppers emptied store shelves and meat counters, looking to stockpile groceries in preparation for an unknown future.
Soon, coronavirus rapidly spread through workers on pork-processing lines. That led to plant shutdowns and a massive backup of pigs on farms, further limiting product supply.
“These front-line workers are a very, very integral part of the food supply chain that we are a part of,” said Dwight Mogler, a pig farmer from Lyon County and the board of directors vice president of resources for the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA).
Iowa pig farmers from several counties have organized pork meals to thank those workers who have helped keep food on American tables during challenging times. Producers were at Smithfield Foods, Sioux Falls, S.D., in July, and at Tyson Foods, Columbus Junction, in October.
Along with IPPA, the South Dakota Pork Producers Council, and Minnesota Pork Board teamed up with Tony’s Catering of Brandon, S.D., and the Smithfield management team to coordinate and serve pork loin sandwiches at the Smithfield Foods facility in Sioux Falls this summer.
Smithfield provided fresh boneless loins for the event. Area pig farmers and other industry representatives grilled and sliced the meat, then assembled individual boxes that contained a sandwich, chips, cookie, and a drink. Chicken also was available for those whose cultures don’t permit eating pork.
More than 3,100 meals were served to both day and evening shifts of employees, as well as outbound truck drivers, according to Tony Bosch of Tony’s Catering.
In addition to producers verbally thanking employees as they picked up their meals, posters displayed near the outdoor food tent translated the words “Thank you for your work in keeping America fed. Stay safe.” into nine of the most popular languages spoken by the workers there.
“Much like on our farms, we rely on dedicated family members and employees to attend work every day,” Mogler said. “Likewise, when we’re harvesting and processing fresh pork products on a daily basis, we need front-line workers to be there every day to do their job. And not only be there, but to be safe.”
Mogler praised the loyalty of Smithfield employees, and said the company has done an “incredible job” implementing processes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The local gesture drew attention from Smithfield’s corporate office.
“Thank you for your efforts to thank our employees and recognize them for the heroes they are,” Keira Lombardo, executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance at Smithfield, wrote in an email. “It is appreciated more than words can express.”
In early October, Washington County Pork Producers—with help from IPPA and National Pork Board staff—grilled 78 pork loins to serve 1,500 Tyson Food
s employees in Columbus Junction. Tyson donated the pork as part of its annual employee appreciation event.
A meal included a pork loin sandwich, coleslaw, baked beans, and ice cream.
“It means a lot to these team members,” said Brent McElroy, plant manager at the Columbus Junction plant. “What everybody has gone through with COVID-19, this was just a fun day and shows that their work is appreciated.”