Despite a rebounding economy, charitable giving by America’s largest and most lucrative corporations is not on the rise. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy and other such publications, corporations are actually giving a smaller percentage of their pre-tax profits – around .8% as compared to 2.1% in 1986.
But maybe small businesses can step up in a big way and help fill the gap.
One small business that has done just that is DPI Labs, an aerospace company in La Verne that specializes in making parts such as cockpit switches, cabin management systems and high definition engertainment for the cabins of private, corporate, military and heads of state aircraft.
DPI Labs created and supports a charity called Sowing Seeds for Life, which started out in 2007 as a regional food bank. It has steadily grown over the past seven years, mainly because of an annual celebrity golf tournament and other fundraising ventures.
Sowing Seeds for Life is announcing that it is increasing its many services. Besides feeding people in need Sowing Seeds for Life has also helped people find jobs. Now it will do more in helping them get back into the work force. The plan calls for a consorted effort with LA Works, a government job placement agency that DPI Labs has been involved with for years.
“The food we give away will get them here, and then we can offer them training and counseling and hopefully get them a job,” said Sowing Seeds for Life’s founder and CEO, Vicki Brown, who is also the CEO and president of DPI Labs.
In 2007, the pastor at Brown’s church gave her and several other members of the congregation $100 each and asked them to use that money to do some good in their communities.
Brown used the $100 to plant a garden on top of the hill behind her Glendora home. Her plan was to take produce from the garden and give it away to people in need.
She soon learned from the seeds she had sown that there were hungry people in her community and others in the area. She went to business partner Greg DeSmet with the idea of using DPI Labs money to start a regional food bank. She solicited the aid of the L.A Regional Food Bank and Feeding America, and from there came the creation of Sowing Seeds for Life, which provides food, clothing and various services to people in the East San Gabriel Valley.
Hundreds of people line up in the DPI Labs parking lot at 1350 Arrow Highway for the twice-a-month food pantries on the first and third Wednesday of every month. Some food banks just hand pre-selected items, but at Sowing Seeds for Life food panties people get their choice of produce, nonperishable food, frozen meats, plus bottled water and various beverages.
The charity also provides food to churches and other charities in the area, and it has been steadily growing over the past seven years.
Business students from nearby University of La Verne come to the food pantries to offer job counseling on a limited basis, and students from the Ontario campus of the West Coast Ultrasound Institute recently began offering free screenings for potential blood stoppages and blood pressure tests.
DPI Labs recently was nominated for a Small Business of the Year award, which is given out by state assemblyman Chris Holden of the 41st District. The award nomination was mainly due to DPI Labs’ involvement with LA Works and its Transitional Subsidized Employment Program, more commonly known as TSE.
“We have had at least 50 employees at DPI that came through the TSE program,” Brown said.
In conjunction with award nomination and a certificate presentation from Holden representative Matt Lyons, Brown held an informal news conference to announce Sowing Seeds for Life’s expanded services, highlighted by job counseling and job placement.
Those attending the news conference besides Lyons included La Verne resident David McElwain, who submitted DPI Labs for consideration as a nominee, La Verne Mayor Don Kendrick, La Verne Chamber of Commerce CEO Brian McNerney, and Mario Rodriguez, client services coordinator at the Irwindale office of LA Works. McElwain is with the L.A. C0unty Office of Education and manages a welfare work program in Pomona that helps low income families in the area find employment.
Also in attendance, from China, were Sam Liany and Xianhai Chen, representing China Southern, a major DPI customer. They had made the trip to Los Angeles to discuss several business matters with Brown and the executive staff at DPI Labs.
The Small Business of the Year award nomination is one of a number of honors for DPI, Sowing Seeds and Brown in recent years.
In April, Brown was among 24 women from the East San Gabriel Valley honored by Congresswoman Grace Napolitano as “unsung heroines” for their roles as volunteers for various charitable organizations and agencies.
Also in April, Brown was one of 12 honorees at the University of La Verne’s first Spirit of La Verne Award ceremony, held at the Church of the Brethren. The awards went to students, staff and individuals in the community who exemplify the school’s core values of civic and community service.
In February, Brown received an award from LA Works for her active support of vocational training and the hiring of clients of the agency.
In April of 2013, Brown was honored by the University of La Verne’s ENACTUS team of business students for her community services.
In 2011, Brown was presented with the L.A. Regional Food Bank’s Tony Collier Award for her dedicated commitment in the fight again hunger. She is a past finalist for the Lewis A. Shattuck Small Business Advocate of the Year Award.
“All I am doing is what I view as a greater good for the community by using my simple gifts of encouragement,” Brown said. “It just takes a gentle nudge from your heart. It is not about me; it is a gift from God.”