Holiday Giving Spirit

December 11, 2020 | Holiday giving spirit Gigi Wood, Business Record,

There will still be presents under the tree and twinkling lights in the windows this December. Snow will blanket the ground outside and fires will roar in fireplaces. Families will continue to gather for hot chocolate, gingerbread cookies and roasted turkey with holiday songs being hummed in homes throughout the prairie.

While the holiday season might be different this year, with fewer of our family members gathering together, the essence of Christmas remains. Part of that essence is the spirit of giving. Whether it’s giving to family or friends, there is no curtailing our enthusiasm for kindness, hospitality and charity.

The same spirit of giving remains at businesses, as well, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. At some companies, business has continued, with workers manufacturing goods across the state. At other places of work, office staff is greatly reduced, with employees working from home. Despite the change in scenery, many businesses are eager to give to co-workers and clients for holiday cheer.

A tradition of giving

In Sheffield, a town 20 miles south of Mason City, is Sukup Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest family-owned and operated producer of grain storage, grain drying and handling equipment. With more than 600 employees, it is one of the largest employers in northern Iowa.

Each year, the company spreads holiday cheer by sending out boxes of apples to its customers. Inspiration for the gift came after the family received a box of oranges as a holiday gift from Western Growers in Chico, Calif., back in the late 1960s. That was well before online shopping, when a shipment of fresh oranges was a luxurious treat.

“When we started doing business with them, they sent a box of oranges from a grove near Chico, Calif., and our family, we were just enthralled with getting a box of oranges from California,” said Charles Sukup, chairman of Sukup Manufacturing.

For many years, Sukup gave out poinsettias to dealers during the holiday season and still does today. When the family was brainstorming ideas for an additional gift with special pizzazz to give out, that memory of California oranges resurfaced. They thought of a way to give a box of fruit with an Iowa twist.

“Poinsettias are nice because they look attractive in the office and people notice,” Sukup said. “There’s also something nice about something you can eat. And we decided, why don’t we send out apples? It didn’t work for us to send out oranges.”

In the past, the company bought apples from Iowa orchards or from Fareway, but after a few cold seasons and the 2020 derecho, which took out hundreds of apple trees, Sukup has procured its apples from an orchard in Gay Mills, Wis.

“Oftentimes in the past, we’d use Iowa orchards; in recent years there’s been some weather issues, so we’ve used apples grown in the Midwest here,” Sukup said. “We send them out to our big customers and friends and acquaintances. It’s just a very pleasurable thing.”

A thankful harvest

Part of the appeal of apples is that they are a healthy snack during a time when people receive a lot of baked goods and candy. Instead of one item, it’s a gift that can be distributed to many in an office setting. Sukup said apples also follow the theme of harvest and giving thanks.

“The apples kind of put us on the map as something that was different,” Sukup said. “We always had a harvest theme, a Thanksgiving theme to it and a note on the box that says, ‘This is the season of harvest and we give thanks to our friends and to our customers and we want to share the bounty of the earth.’ We give great thanks to our customers and want to share.”

The Sukup family decides at an annual meeting which apple variety to send out. Sukup Manufacturing has sent out boxes of Red Delicious, Cortlands, Braeburns and other varieties. This year, they sent out boxes of 40 Cameo apples.

“Amongst us in the company, we have such a difference in opinion about what apples we like,” Sukup said. “I like a soft, sweet apple, but most people don’t care for those and others in the family have very different feelings.”

A sense of gratitude is an important sentiment to the Sukup family as it looks to 2021.

“The positives coming out of it is that we’re learning new ways to deal with things and we’re finding that things like Zoom and online interactions, that we’re getting more out of them than we first thought,” Sukup said. “The loss of personal relationships and connections, when it does come back, we’ll take a higher appreciation for how important it is.”

Giving to those who give back

At BCC Advisers, an advisory firm based in Des Moines, the company donates a monetary gift to a charity as a holiday gift to clients.

“Early on, we tried to come up with creative gifts each year to send clients, prospects and referral sources to show our appreciation and help them remember our firm,” said Steve Jacobs, president of BCC Advisers.

“As we thought through that effort, the partners and employees at BCC Advisers and Iowa Appraisal & Research felt it was more appropriate to recognize these important business relationships by making a cash gift to an organization that supports critical community needs.”

In the past, the company gave donations to the World Food Prize, but in recent years it has contributed to the Food Bank of Iowa. BCC Advisers shares the news about the donation in a clever holiday card sent by postal mail, or through an email that wishes a successful and healthy holiday and new year to friends, clients and others.

“This year, that will be especially important given the pandemic and the negative impact on our economy,” Jacobs said. “We believe it is an important pillar of our company to help those less fortunate in any way we can.”

A gift of Iowa values and virtues

Iowa Area Development Group, which provides economic development leadership, services and support to more than 225 rural electric cooperatives, utility and telephone companies, works to promote rural communities throughout the state. During the holiday season, IADG gives a gift they say emulates rural Iowa’s character, the Our Iowa magazine.

“We want our partners and clients to see, hear and experience the beauty of Iowa,” said Rand Fisher, IADG president. “We want them to make connections and discover all that rural Iowa has to offer.”

The magazine is also a way to promote Iowa as a great place to live, he said.

“We believe the beautiful photography and excellent stories that are a part of every issue help us reinforce Iowa as a great place to live, work and play,” Fisher said. “We think the magazine richly and tastefully represents the virtues and values of Iowa. Every year we expand the subscription list, adding new partners and clients. Many of our business prospects end up locating in Iowa.”

The group has continued to give the magazine each year because of the positive feedback they receive.

“People share stories about places they have visited, products and services they have made it a point to try,” he said. “The magazine truly invites people to experience Iowa. When they do that, we’re fulfilling our sponsors’ mission.”

Fisher grew up in Red Oak, known as the “birthplace of the art calendar industry.”

“I grew up being told that you give people calendars promoting your business because they look at it every day,” he said. “In some ways, a magazine that comes regularly into your home and business throughout the year achieves that same objective.”