Corporate Contribution

FedEx employees volunteer for Wolf River cleanup

By RICHARD J. ALLEY

On a beautiful spring morning last week more than 100 local FedEx employees came together along the banks of the Wolf River to do a beautiful thing.

FedEx employees work to restore and improve properties along the Wolf River watershed at Shelby Farms Park. The project is part of a program sponsored by FedEx and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.  

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

It was the 40th anniversary of FedEx, whose employees volunteered with the Wolf River Conservancy to pull up invasive privet, plant wildflowers and trees, paint sewer vents and build nesting boxes for indigenous birds.

Stewart Austin, board president of the Wolf River Conservancy, called the river an asset, and “the backbone of our community.”

It begins in Benton County, Miss., and then wends its way through Fayette County and among neighborhoods of East Shelby County to the Mississippi River. The Conservancy is in dogged pursuit of a paved greenway, a 22-mile park that will make the river more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians.

Paul Young, administrator of the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Sustainability who was on hand for the cleanup, spoke about a “quality of life incentive” needed to attract and keep larger companies in the area.

“Building up these assets is going to help Memphis and Shelby County, and the region, in the long term,” Young said.

If the Wolf River is an environmental backbone, then FedEx is an economic backbone of the community. Begun on April 17, 1973, with just 186 packages and 25 cities, the carrier now handles 9 million packages per day and employs 30,000 in the Memphis area.

“You guys are the lifeblood of the company,” Mitch Jackson, vice president of environmental affairs and sustainability for FedEx, said to those assembled before the work of the day began. “You are the face of FedEx, you are the ones that embody the company’s ethos and live what we do each and every day, and you’re doing that here today.”

Memphis was not alone. FedEx has partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the Global Month of Service in April, and 600 team members in 14 cities worked with nonprofits to clean and help support local sustainability projects. FedEx, through its EarthSmart Outreach program provided $25,000 in grant money, matched with $45,000 by the NFWF.

“It’s tremendous having volunteers from FedEx doing these various activities that help our environment because these types of activities in public spaces like this wouldn’t get done otherwise,” said Keith Cole, executive director of the Wolf River Conservancy.

Cole pointed to the larger companies in Memphis such as FedEx, Medtronic and International Paper, saying, “they want their employees in the community … the whole area of environmentalism and greening initiatives and sustainability is something that’s very important to industries today.”

Working with corporations through volunteer efforts such as last week’s cleanup is a good way for the Conservancy to get their mission across to those organizations. “We are a nonprofit 501(c)3, so we’re dependent upon donations from our members and individuals to survive, and frequently one of the first steps is engaging them through volunteer opportunities,” Cole said.

FedEx employees Tammy Smith, from left, Jeff Woo, Lana Davenport and Kevin Gautreaux build a birdhouse as part of sustainability efforts along the Wolf River at Shelby Farms. 

The volunteers trading in their keyboards and ID badges for pruning shears and insect repellent didn’t seem to mind the heat of the day or the physical labor asked of them.

Barry Poole, technical director with information security, has tried his hand in construction in building a booth for his Memphis in May barbecue team and in other employer-driven projects such as Habitat For Humanity, but the 28-year FedEx veteran seemed to have it perfected as he fashioned wood planks into a nesting box for Flickers, brown and red woodpeckers that make their home in the wetlands.

“When you volunteer for an area, you feel much closer to that area and you’re inclined to come out and tell other people about it,” Poole said.

Ginger Lunsford, an information technology manager with FedEx Trade Networks who pulled invasive privet vines from trees and underbrush, said she had been looking forward to getting out from in front of her computer for a day in the outdoors.

“I care about the environment around us and spend a lot of time in the park and along the Wolf River and want to help the environment,” she said.

It’s important for Lunsford, who has spent 25 years at FedEx, to work for a company that is active within the community where she lives.

“It’s what we do,” she said. “We give back.”

Another advantage on the day’s activity for both Lunsford and Poole was the opportunity to rub shoulders with coworkers who might normally be spread around the city at the company’s numerous locales.

On the occasion of FedEx’s 40th birthday, those at the heart of the company worked to better the community’s environment while strengthening their corporate environment as well.

“The people out here are coming from a large area, so I don’t work specifically with most of these people,” Poole said. “I’ve met new people and am also working with people I’ve known over the years that I haven’t seen in awhile.”