Wednesday’s team meeting of representatives of Patron Tequila spirit makers in Wilmington was anything other than a boondoggle. Instead of sightseeing and entertainment, these employees of the liquor company were hauling logs and branches out of the homes of people they’ve never met.
Nearly a dozen employees of Patron Tequila spent Wednesday volunteering with Port City Proud, the grassroots organization that’s entering its third month of helping people recover from Hurricane Florence by clearing debris and raising money.
Their homes covered nearly every corner of the country, from Oregon to Florida to Pennsylvania to California. But they chose Wilmington for their team meeting not because of its tourist attractions, but because of the needs of the people.
“It’s a Patron company tradition to meet in places where they can volunteer and give back,”said Kristen Tener, of Portland, Ore. “Some people may have forgotten about it, but it’s still here,” Tener said of the damage caused by the storm.
The volunteers from Patron didn’t just clear brush, they also helped raise money, getting $550 in donations from the two houses they cleared.
“It really shows what you can do if you get 8 or 10 people together, it makes a huge difference,” said Loretta Clark, of Texas.
Since September, Port City Proud has assembled volunteers to help clear brush and debris from neighbors yards, all while raising money to help those in need. The group has raised almost $50,000 total. So far, the volunteers with Port City Proud have cleaned nearly 400 houses. But as Jess Miller said, the work isn’t done, and there are nearly 100 still on the list.
Miller, one of the group’s central organizers, said the experience of helping her neighbors has been humbling.
“I can’t tell you how many people have looked out their back door and saw what we’ve done and cried in my arms,” Miller said.
One of the Patron representatives had his own hurricane stories to share, as he was in South Florida when Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005.
“We know what a hurricane can do,” said Marc Roberts of Ft. Lauderdale.
On Wednesday, with temperatures getting into the low 40s, they worked on two houses. One house had a tree on the shed that housed the tools the owner needed to cut away the tree.
“It’s a workout but it’s definitely warms you up,” said Thomas Swoboda, of Detroit. “I lost the jacket after a little while.”
For the employees of Patron, the unusual work meeting offers a unique chance to bond with colleagues.
“It’s a good experience, to get to know people on a different level,” Tener said. “It takes you out of work talk.”