At Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation—a food manufacturer headquartered in Chester, Illinois—the impact of COVID-19 is deeply personal. In April 2020, their CEO, Don Welge, passed away due to the virus.
“It was a time when there was not a lot known about the virus,” said CEO Tom Welge, who is Don’s son. “He was very much the spirit of the company, and we found ourselves without him at a time when demand was blowing up for groceries as everybody began staying home and the supply chain was starting to be disrupted. It was a very challenging year, and we were without our captain.”
A year later, that heartbreaking experience has made Welge especially supportive of the nationwide vaccination campaign and motivated to get his company’s workers vaccinated. He spoke to us recently about Gilster-Mary Lee’s methods for overcoming vaccine hesitancy and its efforts to run its own vaccine clinics.
Reducing vaccine hesitancy: The company is taking a multistep approach to help employees become comfortable with vaccination—from disseminating the NAM’s materials and fact sheets to coordinating with state and local health associations to creating its own informational products. But the most critical piece, according to Welge, is communication.
- “Probably the most important thing is consistent messaging and conversations,” said Welge. “We engaged our managers to make sure they were on board, and then we asked them to go out and evangelize the teams that they work with.”
Open engagement: “You’ve got to be open to answering questions that people have about the vaccine, and not belittle any questions that are brought to you,” said Welge. “At the end of the day, it’s still a decision that an individual has to make—and all we can do is point out all the advantages.”
Vaccination stations: Gilster-Mary Lee isn’t only encouraging its employees to receive the vaccine; the company is also bringing the vaccine directly to them by setting up vaccination clinics at its facilities—a process that was no small feat.
- “You make a lot of calls—you find the right person to talk to at a health care agency or a pharmacy and have a friendly conversation,” said Welge. “We are all aligned on what the mission is: we want to get as many doses to as many people as possible. If you show that you are somebody who will do whatever it takes to make this work, they’ll say let’s work with these guys.”
Pictures at a vaccination: NAM Director of Photography David Bohrer captured one of Gilster-Mary Lee’s vaccination events on April 1. The county health department sent over staff to give the Moderna vaccine to more than 150 workers at the company’s Perryville, Missouri, facility.
Here is Perry County Registered Nurse Amy Hector filling a shot from a vaccine vial:
Workers who are coming off an overnight shift or starting their day shift get vaccinated:
A nurse wears a pro-vaccine shirt in the picture below—sending the right message!
And last, getting your first vaccine dose is definitely worth smiling about. Here’s Gilster-Mary Lee employee Claudia Bohnert showing off a new Band-Aid where she received her first shot.
The bottom line: Welge is adamant in his support of vaccinations. As he puts it—and tells his employees—“This is a decision that protects you, protects your family and protects your coworkers.”
Timmons says: NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons said about Welge’s efforts, “Having lost my father to COVID-19, I know what the Welge family has endured. And I know how it strengthens your resolve to see everyone get vaccinated. No one should have to feel the immense pain of losing a loved one to COVID-19. And thankfully, now with the vaccines, we can protect all of our loved ones.”