What would we do without them?
For generations the poultry industry has been an integral part of Shenandoah Valley economy. Companies like Pilgrims working with hundreds of local farms produce food to sustain millions of Americans. Along with hundreds more locally owned businesses that support the poultry industry.
During the early days of the pandemic, we all remember the fears of food shortages that sparked hoarding. The Pilgrim’s Timberville processing complex is normally set up to process bulk poultry that will be distributed by the case to restaurants and facilities that will prepare the chicken for consumption by consumers. However, to support a struggling supply chain for grocery stores they adjusted the bulk package operation in a way that allowed for supermarkets to sell their products. This was no small undertaking and required team members to work every Saturday as well as other process adjustments.
Brandywine West Virginia native Dwain Gillespie started working at Wampler foods at age 16 during the summers and worked every summer to save for college. After graduating he returned to the Wampler plant and has been in the poultry industry ever since. Over these 30 plus years Dwain worked his way all the way up to be the Manager of the Timberville Complex.
The stability of employment has been incredible, 32 years without being unemployed. I plan to one day retire from this business. “One of the things I’d like to see change is the way our general public views work in poultry farming and processing.” Gillespie says.
The work is not always easy or glamorous, but it is essential. Recent events have really shown the importance of locally sourced and processed food.
Immigrants from countries outside the US are very important to maintaining our food supply. Currently a very diverse workforce with 9 languages being spoken in the complex performs most of the production line work. Bilingual employees are key to communication with workers that speak only their native language. And often looks to this group when selecting a new line lead or superintendent.
Staffing is by far the biggest challenges, with the need for additional growers a close second. One of Rockingham County’s largest employers with approximately 590 full time employees at the Timberville complex alone. The company is aggressively pursuing both. Doing so by offering financial incentives, health insurance and retirement plans and tuition reimbursement for those seeking to develop themselves professionally.
There is even a program that pays for hotel accommodations for up to two months for people who have nowhere to live in the area. This program is designed to allow the person time to save a deposit and find permanent housing. Through Pilgrims “Better Futures Program” the company awards a full college scholarship to an employee to an employee or child of an employee. This is life changing for those who receive it.
No experience is necessary, and the company offers full training. You can be as successful as you want to be in this company. Not a quick path to the top but Dwain is proof that a high school student working summers does have potential to reach top management.
Giving back to the communities is something Pilgrims believes strongly in and donates generously to the towns and local nonprofits. Recently both the Town of Broadway and Timberville have received substantial donation that were used to fund water and recreation projects benefiting residents.
Next time you encounter a smelly chicken truck, a poultry worker who just completed their shift in the checkout line or enjoy some BBQ chicken one Saturday morning, perhaps you may view them all differently knowing the valuable contributions made by this company and the people who do this essential work.
Currently Eugene owns and operates Bare Web Design & Marketing, providing advertising, video production and IT services. His work can be seen in various TV commercials, websites and here in the Chimney Rock Chronicle And is cofounder of Broadway Coworking, a shared workspace for individuals and small businesses. He enjoys writing about all the subjects that intrigue him including local business, food, technology and more.