Sweetening the Deal

Michigan Sugar President and CEO Mark Flegenheimer ordered the purchase of $135,000 worth of restaurant gift cards targeting around 50 restaurants …

Michigan Sugar Provides a Spoonful of Hope for the Region

Throughout its 114-year history, the Michigan Sugar Co. has been a story of sweet success for the Great Lakes Bay Region.

As the expanding trials and troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic made everyday life a tougher pill to swallow for many this year, the Bay City-based company stepped up with an additional spoonful to help the medicine go down.

“It was such a strange time. We just thought, ‘Well, we’ll just get through these three weeks and everything will go back to normal.’ Instead, this pandemic started dragging on, and it’s still dragging on,” said Rob Clark, director of communications and community relations at Michigan Sugar.

The grower-owned cooperative jumped to action to help its neighbors tackle a societal storm that’s had wide-ranging impacts on how residents face daily challenges.

“We’ve always had this belief that as part of the community it’s our job to help make life sweeter,” Clark said. “We mean that literally, obviously. We make sugar. We mean it figuratively, too.

“We understand that we’re one of the largest employers in the region. … Not only do we have the ability to do that and the opportunity to do that, but we also feel that we have the responsibility to do that,” he added.

One creative act of kindness benefited both the greater community and Michigan Sugar’s own employees who kept manning their jobs as essential workers. Michigan Sugar President and CEO Mark Flegenheimer ordered the purchase of $135,000 worth of restaurant gift cards targeting around 50 restaurants in local communities, with each of the co-op’s 1,300 employees getting a $100 gift card, Clark said.

“I got to call these restaurants and say, ‘Yes, I’d like to buy some gift cards from you.’ And they’d say, ‘Well, how many would you like?’ And I would say, ‘Well, how about $5,000 worth?’ I will tell you that the response was often tears,” Clark said. “It was a way to say thank you to them and a way to give back to our communities and support local businesses, which are so important to the lifeblood of our communities.”

The company also donated more than 1,000 masks, nearly 800 pairs of safety glasses and around 550 pairs of gloves from its own reserves to a half-dozen area hospitals.

“It was pretty clear to us almost immediately that the people who work in the hospitals needed that stuff more than we needed it,” Clark said. “We kept what we needed on hand, but we basically went through our stockpile and said, ‘Let’s donate this stuff.’”

Finally, Clark said, his company partnered with the Hidden Harvest nonprofit food rescue and redistribution center in Saginaw to donate and redistribute 46,000 pounds of sugar to social service providers in need.

“We donate a lot of sugar every year, about 100,000 pounds, to food pantries, soup kitchens and nonprofits,” Clark said. “But we felt there was a need to really do a big donation at one time so we can keep food pantries stocked, soup kitchens stocked, homeless shelters stocked.”

While stepping up, Michigan Sugar was just stepping into its usual role as a local resource. The company has built a legacy on donating to the community, sponsoring civic events and encouraging its employees to get involved. It’s a reputation that those associated with the Michigan Sugar name take to heart.

“You’ll just find our people giving back in many, many ways,” Clark said.


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