Wait and Watch
“Social distancing is the antithesis of engagement” said one of our Toyota Connected Community Engagement members. It was early March 2020, and we were seated in one of the conference rooms assimilating the recent cancellations of outdoor events and contemplating the meaning of the ominous looking graph from CDC that was circulating on the internet – it projected that 200K deaths were likely by Aug 2020.
We took a call to advertise virtual donation drives to local food banks and individual efforts for mask making. On that surreal note, the meeting ended. We wouldn’t have believed it if anyone had told us that the next meeting would be six months later.
As a global engineering leader, I have a pulse on data relating to vehicles on the road that mirrors the COVID-19 reality – not only in US but across Europe, Japan, India, and others. However, nothing prepared me for what occurred in the later months because of COVID-19. The toll of the pandemic hit even closer to home when family members of my global team became susceptible to the virus.
Understanding the gravity of the situation, we engaged with the Connected Technologies committee to volunteer at the vaccination hub in Dallas County. Since it was my first time visiting the center, I left early in case I got lost. Once I got onto I35, I could see miles and miles of cars in one of the exits – a telltale sign that this was “the spot”.
We appreciated the scale of vaccine delivery operations of this mega site that was adorned with huge tents and 10-15 lanes of cars. It was heartwarming to see everyone, both young and old, trying to get vaccinated for the first time and be safe – for not only themselves but for the sake of their families and wider communities.
Once inside, we were divided into different groups and tasked with non-medical services, such as providing snacks, traffic lane control, and observing people post-vaccination to ensure they didn’t have side effects after the shot. Many people were grateful that there was someone looking out for them as they sat in the cars rubbing their shoulder! It was nice to talk with them as they waited – a sense of community that we had been missing since the start of the pandemic.
The site was supposed to close at 12 due to impending rains, however the high demand meant that the event went past 1:30 p.m. In the end, we serviced more than 200 cars per hour, and by the end of the day, between 5,000-10,000 people had gotten vaccinated!
The economic impact of COVID-19 is well documented, and many families had fallen into hard times due to lost jobs resulting from the drastic decline in several industries such as hospitality and retail.
Once it became safer for people to venture outside their homes, our team chose to volunteer at the North Texas Food Bank to help package meals for the elderly and schoolchildren. The facility was akin to a Toyota assembly line with varied stations designated for preparing boxes, packing them with different food items like pasta, food cans, or bag of grains, and then loading them onto a pallet that would then be shrink wrapped and loaded onto the delivery trucks. Kids were welcome too, and my daughter had a blast helping her community, as did many others who participated.
The best part was catching up with our Toyota colleagues whom we hadn’t seen in a while or meeting entirely new colleagues who had joined since the start of the pandemic. Call it a quasi-networking event! At the end of the day, we were able to package 50,000 meals for our community and had fun while doing it.
It’s no surprise that sitting in front of a computer at home and immersed in the digital world all day had become the new norm while we faced the pandemic head on. To mix it up and improve our mental and physical health (with safety as the prime mantra, of course) our team has participated in 5K charity running events from JP Morgan and other organizations.
For me personally, it was an opportunity to shed unwanted pounds and finally take part in an official 5K run. It was also notable to find star athletes in our company who clocked an impressive 20-minute finish time! We were able to showcase their results and support one another’s healthy lifestyle habits during our virtual internal meetings to encourage one another to keep up the good work.
Looking to 2022
Community engagement work is not finished and probably never will be. Our internal volunteer committees, local nonprofit organizations and all our wonderful colleagues ensured that even when the world was closing around us, there were still ways for all of us to connect with one another and give back to our communities. As difficult as 2021 was, I’m hopeful that 2022 will be an amazing year full of love and joy, and I look forward to seeing how Toyota Connected can continue to support our community.