Author: Carmen Adamson

United Airlines has a community engagement program that aligns with nonprofit organizations around the globe to deliver on social impact initiatives. Their actions are rooted in four cornerstones:
• Lifting communities in crisis after disaster
• Breaking down barriers to promote inclusion
• Inspiring the next generation of leaders
• Flying toward a more sustainable future

We interviewed Michaela Hrbacek, Global Community Engagement at United Airlines to learn more about their strategies to engage employees and support their communities during the pandemic.

United Airlines Rise Against Hunger Campaign

United Airlines has been supporting Rise Against Hunger (RAH) since 2016 reaching the 1 million meal mark in July 2019.  RAH reintroduced meal packing during the pandemic when meals were a critical part of their COVID-19 Relief and Resilience Plan. Please give our readers a summary of this program and the support that United Airlines provides.

Rise Against Hunger shut down meal packing due to COVID-19, and their meal inventory was depleted by May 2019. United has consistently worked alongside them to support a safe reintroduction to meal packing during the pandemic. United Airlines was the first company to support the re-introduction of Rise’s safe meal packing efforts. Starting June 8th, we executed events in EWR, IAD, and SFO. The significance of United’s commitment is not just the completion of these lifesaving meals, but United will finish filling three containers in EWR, IAD, and SFO. Our efforts will allow these containers to be shipped to the benefitting orgs. The regions benefitting from these emergency response meals: Central America (Nicaragua) and Asia (Vietnam). Our total meal commitment was over 300,000 meals.

In April, United also launched a Miles on a Mission campaign on international Giving Tuesday for RAH and they ultimately received 2.5 million donated miles (Members donated 1,999,853 – United matched 501,000).

We realize that some of the meal packing activities were adjusted due to the strict CDC guidelines. Can you talk about how you communicated these new guidelines?

United employees did not stop working during the pandemic. As essential workers, our employees helped medical responders, doctors, families and loved ones move around the country. As vaccine roll outs and distribution started, they were making sure life-saving supplies got to hospitals and community care practitioners safely. Our employees were well-aware of the CDC guidelines and how to work safely and socially distant in their jobs. There wasn’t much we had to do to instill this mindset and care for each other’s health and safety.

Rise Against Hunger reported that your employees managed to pack 300,000+ meals in record time and had a consistent flow of volunteers. This is awesome! Can you talk about how you kept employees engaged for this multi-day event?

United employees are some of the most passionate and efficient volunteers I know. Obviously, I’m biased but I truly believe that. Whether they’ve never participated in a specific activity, do it every year, or visit a local organization weekly – they enter volunteer events ready to work and make a difference. The multi-day event was a good structure for our airport staff – since they are always on the move (on to the next gate, the next flight, etc.) if they’re walking by the event one day but can’t stop, they will be able to put the volunteer activity on their schedule the next day.

We know you had a lot of newcomers to volunteerism with United that loved this event. Can you talk about how you get new employees involved?

Word of mouth is definitely a huge recruitment tool, especially at airports and facilities where folks are in front of email/computers all day. When you see your colleagues feel passionate about doing good in the community, and you see the company sponsor and support that, it’s easy!

United Airlines COVID-19 Well Being Check-in

We loved the idea of this virtual volunteer program to check-in with people during COVID-19. We believe it showcases a creative way to get employees involved and feeling connected. Please give our readers a summary of this program.

The pandemic without a doubt made many people feel isolated and alone. There are certain pockets of our population that are already at high risk for this, and the pandemic just exacerbated it. Our employees participated in sending text messages just to check-in with people in the community that agreed to receive this type of service. The people our employees texted responded really well to this engagement and were grateful that someone was interested in checking on them during a difficult time.

We know you mentioned that your employees loved getting involved in this program. Can you talk about the impact it had on your employees and the impact it had on the people you contacted?

Our employees overwhelmingly agreed that the text-banking left them feeling good not only because they were volunteering in service of others, but also because it helped them feel more connected to others. It was a mutually beneficial project, and all sides felt a little more connected to humanity.

Since this was a new volunteer opportunity for your employees during the pandemic, can you talk about how you kicked off this program using CSRConnect?

We conducted recruitment and communicated the event information to employees through the YourCause platform. The unique part of this project being virtual was that it allowed employees from across the globe to participate. We had flight attendants from San Francisco and mechanics from Houston, for example, all helping conduct outreach to Chicago residents, which was really cool to see.

How did you find the community partners to work with to get the list of people who wanted a check-in?

We partnered with Chicago Cares, who partnered with the City of Chicago. We sponsored the project, meaning we funded the staffing and coordination and the use of the text-banking software, and Chicago Cares/The City of Chicago narrowed down the list of folks that would benefit from the outreach.

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