A multinational meat producer on Thursday said it will donate $3.5 million to three Minnesota communities where it has operations, saying the money represents a response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as an investment in the communities’ future.
The details aren’t finalized, but the communities of Worthington, Pipestone and Cold Spring will share the donation. Worthington and Pipestone each have a pork plant owned by JBS USA and Cold Spring has a chicken plant owned by Pilgrim’s. All are subsidiaries of the Brazilian company JBS S.A., the world’s largest processor of fresh beef and pork.
The donations in Minnesota are part of a $50 million pledge the company is making to communities nationwide where its 62 plants operate.
Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle said his city will get a donation of $1 million toward a new indoor recreation center that’s already being planned. The city enacted a half-cent sales tax last year to fund the project and has already committed $3.5 million. The JBS donation will allow the center to add additional space, Kuhle said.
“We’re incredibly grateful,” he said.
JBS employs more than 2,000 people in its Worthington pork plant. Earlier this year, a major COVID-19 outbreak infected almost half the workforce, and at least three died. The plant, the largest pork processor in Minnesota, closed for two weeks in April and May.
Nikki Richardson, a JBS USA spokeswoman, said the company has invested more than $100 million in safety measures nationwide, as well as an additional $100 million in bonuses and increased pay for its workers. The donation program, which the company has dubbed “Hometown Strong,” is a recognition that “as a large employer, we have a responsibility to do more than just produce food,” she said.
“In the times we’re living in, we take our responsibility very seriously,” she said. “We are working very closely with community leaders to create needed and lasting benefits. We’re trying to make it really customized to the community’s needs.”
In Pipestone, JBS last year bought an existing packinghouse that was in danger of shutting down, saving about 130 jobs.
Mayor Myron Koets said the size and purpose of the company’s donation hasn’t been finalized, but he said it would likely go toward efforts to make the community more inclusive of its growing minority population.
Koets said he and others have been working on setting up a program for more than two years, “and now with their generosity, what we had a dream about is actually happening.”
Pipestone County has recently seen a surge of COVID-19 cases, but they’re not from the pork plant, Koets said.
“Unfortunately, it’s gotten into a nursing home,” he said. “Secondly, there was a construction company with about 50 employees, and it got into there.”
In Cold Spring, where a Pilgrim’s chicken plant employs about 1,200 people, officials did not return calls seeking comment.