By Sharon Sullivan
On a mid-October day, six disabled men and women are helping Enstrom Candies prepare for the busy holiday season by packing gift baskets and boxes with its world-famous almond toffee, assorted chocolates, and popcorn. Also tucked in the boxes are storyboards that tell the story of the fourth-generation family business.
This year Enstrom is partnering with STRiVE, a Grand Junction-based nonprofit that serves developmentally and/or physically disabled individuals and their families, to meet its holiday rush.
Jamee Simons, whose grandfather Chet Enstrom founded Enstrom Candies in 1960, owns the business along with her husband Doug, and their two sons, Doug, Jr., and Jim. She became aware of the opportunity to hire STRiVE individuals while serving on the nonprofit’s Foundation Board.
It’s a great opportunity to hire employees for short-term projects, she said. And she’s more than pleased with the work ethic of her new, temporary employees.
“They are good, hard workers, and well-supervised (they work alongside two STRiVE staff members), Simons said. “They’re a lot more productive than temp (agency) workers,” the company has hired in the past. “They’re happy to be working. We can’t say enough how great this relationship is.”
Each year Enstrom “premixes” 80% of the previous year’s holiday sales to get a jump on the season. The four men and two women, along with two STRiVE, direct support professionals, work five days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“They’re doing an awesome job; they’re just a pleasure to have, we totally love having them here,” Enstrom Candies production manager Barb Myers said. “They have fun but they don’t stop working.”
The temporary workers started on October 6 and expect to be finished by the end of October.
“We’re ahead of schedule by two or three days,” said Trish Russell, Enstrom’s ice-cream maker and supervisor of the packing operation.
“They all care; they come to work,” Russell said. “They’re not preoccupied with their phones. They’re meticulous about what they do; they help each other in positive ways. I look forward to coming to work with these guys. They have a positive outlook on life. They’re appreciative to be here.”
After the gift packs are completed there will be gift baskets to create – a more detailed job that includes adding shredded paper to the baskets, filling them with Enstrom products, and operating a heat gun to shrink-wrap the basket. A decorative bow is tied to the basket.
Working for Enstrom Candies has brought out people’s personalities and provided them with opportunities for responsibility, said Merrianne Shaw, who has worked for STRiVE for 10 years.
“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful change for them,” from the usual routine, she said. “They go home tired and proud and anxious to come back.”
When the gift box packing job is finished, Enstrom might need additional help in the mailroom closer to the holiday, Myers said. Enstrom definitely plans to hire STRiVE individuals again next year, she said.
“If other businesses don’t give them a try they’re going to miss out on a good opportunity,” Myers said.
Simons said finding employees through STRiVE is “handy” because it can be difficult at times finding needed help for short-term projects.
“I hope we have a long relationship with them,” Simons said.