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Smithfield Foods: Universal Languages

Jeannie Weber, Executive Director


Life is a journey. We have heard these words so often. This journey can be literal, where we travel for thousands of miles in order to find something we hope is better for us and/or our loved ones. It can also be a figurative journey, where physically we stay in the same geographic place, yet grow intentionally, or often by accident. Growth comes in how we adapt to what life has given us, as we all run into obstacles on our path.


This week I had a journey to Smithfield Foods to assist them in our United Way employee campaign. It has been evident that Monmouth has changed over the 30 years I had been gone and I have truly cherished the fact that our community is so diverse. In fact, United Way is diligently working with other community leaders on new programs that will assist our immigrant population, our educators, and our community as it continues its journey. 


I had met Carlos about a month ago, when we discussed previous campaigns, what we wanted to change and keep, and what our goal would be for the year. The father of 4 children, he drives from the Quad Cities every day to his job at Smithfield, which is to train and supervise hundreds of new and existing employees every year. In addition to his commute, working 10-12 hour days, and helping his wife raise their children, Carlos is completing a college degree in management.


It is impressive to say the least and impressions do not end there. After a morning in the break room, I had the opportunity to go to the kill floor, where I met team leaders Serge, Sergio, Roel, and Salai, who speak French, Spanish, and Chin/Burmese respectively. Again, watching the interaction they all have with their employees is incredible to see. As I learned how to say “thank you” in numerous languages (there are a minimum 16 different languages spoken at Smithfield) it was suddenly apparent that our universal language, which is to help one another, is understood no matter where we are from. 


The same thing occurred in the evening, when second-shift team leaders Juan, Michelle, and Felix, came to help between calls on the radio, assisting new employees, and on Thursday evening, facilitating order when the entire plant went dark due to a city power outage. 


Over the course of several days, there has been no argument or discussion from anyone. In fact, there have been constant smiles. Although there are over 1,500 employees from all over the world, everyone knows each other by their first name. After reading United Way brochures in various languages; team leaders explaining to employees who we assist in Warren County, there was a consistent line of hundreds more than willing to give $1, $2, $5, or in some cases $10 a paycheck to help the community in which they reside. For the management team at Smithfield, they not only give monetarily, but provide staff for a week so our mission can be communicated. 


My journey this week has been to many other worlds, all in one place. Equal to my journey back home to Monmouth almost a year ago, growing to know people in the community now as an adult, it filled me with a deep sense of gratitude not just for myself, but for Monmouth as a whole. Growth within “tiny city life” has been extreme; both intentional and by accident. 


My trip to Smithfield was no accident. Rather than discussing it, or studying it, I needed to experience it there —- the universal language of helping one another.