Phelps Implement and Sunshine Quality Solutions share a number of things in common. Both are members of the Equipment Dealers Assn., both are John Deere dealerships and both have decades of experience in the equipment industry with multiple locations to serve their customers.

In 2016, they shared a different kind of experience: severe flooding which impacted their businesses, employees and local communities. In both cases, dealership employees benefited from disaster relief grants provided by EDA’s Equipment Dealers Foundation (EDF). 

The Disaster Relief Fund was created in 2005 after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Since then, EDF has provided $270,000 in grants to 160 employees of equipment dealers across North America. Once EDF approves a grant, a check is sent to the dealer for distribution to the employee recipient. The grants are designed to help offset the financial burden many disaster victims may face, such as costs for food, living expenses, temporary accommodations, home repair/replacement, construction, transportation and other approved needs. 

Five employees of Phelps Implement, headquartered in Greene, Iowa, received grants for flooding that struck their community for the second time in 8 years. Several employees were displaced from their homes and some are still in the process of rebuilding. When the flooding occurred, John Schwennen, general manager of Phelps Implement, immediately went to work for his staff. He obtained application materials from EDA, distributed them to those who needed them and even assisted by writing recommendations. John actually had prior knowledge of EDF — in 2008 after a tornado hit his home town of Parkersburg, Iowa, he applied for grant assistance himself. Although John did not receive a grant from EDF, his first-hand knowledge of the process proved to be valuable — all of the Phelps Implement employees who applied for grant assistance received it.

When the checks arrived, John felt relief. “It was a very positive experience for the employees and really made my whole week to be able to give something back to them – like a gift,” he added. “It created a lot of goodwill and a ‘you do care’ feeling.” He added, “Receiving the grants really brightened their day and their situation. They were very pleased that the association and Phelps Implement helped them receive something they weren’t expecting.”

One of the grant recipients from Phelps Implement also serves as the fire chief for his local community. The flood not only impacted his home, but also the firemen, himself included, who worked overtime to respond to the disaster. “So, it was a pretty difficult time for him,” John recalled. “When he applied for and received the grant, he said to me: ‘I’m just happy someone cares about us to try to do something for us, whether we get the grant or not.’”

In Louisiana, Sunshine Quality Solutions was experiencing similar hardships. Seven employees applied for and received grants following flooding in August. At the time, the dealership, based in Donaldsonville, La., was in the process of planning for a merger (Sunshine Equipment and Quality Equipment merged in October 2016 to become Sunshine Quality Solutions) when disaster struck. Luckily most of their stores were unharmed but their Baton Rouge, La., location flooded. 

CEO Rob Richter was at the store with the store manager, George Sloan, early on a Sunday morning when water started flowing into the store. They quickly managed to get critical office equipment, files and parts off the floor and prevented significant and costly damages.

“In addition to dealing with flooding to the store, we lost communication with many of our employees during this time due to the widespread flooding in the area and loss of cellular connections,” said Rob. “These are people you work with, people you’re with all day. You care for them.”

Rob contacted his regional association Deep South Equipment Dealers Assn. who reached out to EDA on his behalf. When they found out help was available, Sunshine’s HR manager, Lizzie Blanchard, began surveying employees to determine who was most in need of assistance. Lizzie, according to Rob, was instrumental in the organization and distribution of the grants. The staff at Sunshine was grateful for the support. “It really brought a sense of pride that we have a partner out there willing to help us out,” said Rob. “The grant recipients were all very appreciative and humbled by the support the Equipment Dealers Foundation provided.” 

Both dealerships praised the simplicity and speed of the disaster relief grant process. “It was very easy for our employees who applied, and within 30 days the awards were here,” said John.  

“We’re used to dealing with natural disasters like flooding and hurricanes, but I was impressed by how quickly the foundation was able to respond and provide support for those who were affected,” agreed Rob. “It didn’t take months to get done — it was a matter of weeks. The grants definitely helped those employees get going again. ”  

When asked for advice they would pass along to other dealerships, John was clear. “Don’t think that a natural disaster can’t happen, because it does happen in the blink of an eye. We saw some of the worst flooding in 2008. It was considered a 500 year flood, and the communities pulled together and rebuilt. Now, 8 years later we were impacted again.” He added, “I encourage each dealer to support the Foundation any way they can. It’s a wonderful thing and you don’t know when you may need to rely on it for support.”

Rob’s advice was simple. “Reach out. There are resources available to help your employees. Know what they are and take advantage of them if needed.”

Help Make a Difference

Each year, the EDF requires significant funding to support its disaster relief as well as scholarships, and work relating to industry information and research. Equipment dealers and industry partners can help make a difference by downloading this pledge card and sending in your tax-deductible contribution to the Equipment Dealers Foundation Fund.