Merck Employees Help After Disaster Strikes

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria left paths of devastation in parts of Texas, Florida, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico.

Merck has not only provided more than $22 million in financial and product contributions to those impacted by those recent hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, but its employees have volunteered many hours to help get their communities back on their feet.

Puerto Rico

Locating missing colleagues and providing much-needed supplies and support

Isabel Torres, a customer sales manager with Merck, was among the 3.4 million people affected by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. The family endured days without power and a rapidly dwindling supply of water and food.

“My husband and I have teenagers, one of whom is disabled. We live on a remote side of the island. There were no lights anywhere. Debris was everywhere. And no way to communicate with anybody.”

Little did she know that three of her colleagues were determined to find her: Edward Cordero and Frank Castillo from Merck's Manufacturing Division (MMD); and Pablo Maestre, who works in global security.

“We had several employees unaccounted for,” says Frank. “We got a truck and a police escort to travel with us and spent about 13 hours searching for everybody.”

Finding Isabel proved to be their biggest challenge. Houses were dark and roads were impassable. “We set out on foot and came across a group of people outside who showed us how to get to Isabel’s house. She was surprised when we showed up. There were lots of tears,” says Frank. Supplies from Merck, such as food and water, soon followed for Isabel's family.

Back in operation in just 14 days

Once all employees were located, one of the next jobs was to restore manufacturing operations. “Our people stepped up to the challenge without hesitation,” says Joel Alvarado, a Merck engineer. “We did clean-up work, repairs and inspections and resumed manufacturing of key products in just 14 days.”

Joel says countless stories unfolded of “camaraderie, support and empathy. We shared water, food, supplies and experiences as a family.”

Texas and Florida

Helping communities rebuild, one home at a time

When Merck employee Chris Savage saw the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, he reached out to colleagues to organize a relief team.

Volunteers from the company’s Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, site and a field sales colleague from Oregon responded immediately to the call for help in Texas. They partnered with Samaritan’s Purse and spent 124 hours repairing storm-damaged homes and removing trees and debris in Rockport, Texas. They also spent 20 hours at a wildlife refuge, cleaning up after the storm.

Before the seven volunteers traveled to Texas, Health Services provided vaccines and information about risks involved in this type of effort, and team members from our West Point, Pennsylvania, site provided safety packages for the crew, including protective eyewear, hardhats and gloves.

“Our Merck family really pulled together to support us on our trip,” says Chris. “The effort is an example of how Merck employees have the capacity to change the world – in this case, one storm-damaged home at a time."

Feeding families in need

More than 20 colleagues from our Houston sales team worked with the Houston Food Bank to prepare 1,500 lunches, sort and package food, and load supplies on trucks headed for areas in need.

“It was an incredibly rewarding volunteer experience to see our colleagues from across our franchises work together to strengthen a community that means so much to all of us,” says Merck employee Erik Moore.

The unbreakable human-animal bond

“This was one of the most amazing, gratifying and emotional experiences I’ve ever had.” These words sum up the 10-day volunteer experience at two animal shelters in the Houston area of Jay Tischendorf, a veterinarian for Merck Animal Health. Many of the animal health products used at the shelters were donated by Merck Animal Health.

“It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time,” says Jay. “The animals were arriving by the truckload. Some were strays. Others had been separated from their human families. Animals are a huge part of our lives. Next to gravity, the human-animal bond may be the most powerful force on earth.”

From her Arizona home, Debera Butler could not stop watching the news. “I cried when I saw people in Texas take their dogs into the helicopters or boats. I just knew I had to do something to help.”

Debera, another veterinarian for Merck Animal Health, applied for an emergency veterinary license in Texas. Soon, she was on her way to the George Brown Convention Center in Houston, the only facility that allowed individuals to keep their pets with them.

For four days, Debera provided vaccines and medicine for animals and “lots of hugs for the humans.”

Unforgettable encounters

When Denise Rebeor, an associate sales director for the west coast of Florida, learned about an urgent situation in a Florida community, she swung into action to help families impacted by Hurricane Irma. Little did she know, a big surprise was around the corner.

Denise and her 14-year-old daughter set aside their own concerns about power loss and storm damage at their Fort Myers home to help families in Bonita Springs, Florida. While there, Denise met the pastor of a local church, who helped her team up with other volunteers to package and deliver food, water, sheets diapers and other needed supplies to some of the poorest areas in the community.

“At one point, the pastor lifted his sunglasses and said, ‘I know you.’ Turns out it was Charles Roth, a former Merck employee who worked in sales training with me 18 years ago,” says Denise. “I cannot believe our paths crossed.”

Denise and her daughter spent a week in the area and will never forget the experience.

“We came upon a young woman who was very pregnant living in a shed because her house had been overturned. There were so many people in need and so many who showed up to help. The human spirit is fragile but resilient and compassionate.”