Barbara Richardson: How a single care package evolved into a Corporate initiative
Barbara Richardson’s professional title is a mouthful; Assistant Vice President for Strategic Planning and Forecasting at Barclays.
Few people outside the corporate world will even understand what that title means. That’s okay with her, because she’s more than a job title. She is also a wife and mother, and she’s become the inspiration for the behemoth corporation she works for, in supporting our active duty and veteran military members.
It started with baked goods and Swedish Fish, and grew into a movement.
Barbara’s inbox contained a special email one day. A friend of hers told Barbara about men deployed in Afghanistan alongside her brother. Many of these men, the friend explained, received few to no letters or care packages from home. Would Barbara be willing to help? Just one care package or letter would make an enormous difference in the day of any of the men so far from home, in dangerous territory, trying to stay positive.
The request pulled at her. Barbara jumped on it. First she enlisted her children’s school for support. She then brought the school project to work, and it grew from there.
Her first work event was a care package contest. Employees responded with almost 40 care packages for deployed troops. She could have stopped there, but knew she could do more.
Barbara brought the effort home with her. Every month Barbara sent care packages to her friend’s Gunny Sergeant brother, who would disperse those among his buddies. Swedish Fish were his own request, so Barbara made sure to include those along with baked goodies she makes herself, right out of her own kitchen.
When that Marine returned home, he sent her the names of men still deployed, and Barbara baked for them. Then, when those troops rotated home, Barbara decided to maintain her mission of sending support and love to our men and women overseas. She reached out to organizations linking volunteers with troops to “adopt” during deployment.
She’s now happily entrenched in the ranks of volunteers working with Soldiers’ Angels, a non-profit dedicated to supporting military families. She’s adopted dozens of military personnel over several years. She’s even evolved to be entrusted with adopting Special Ops personnel, having shown her value and earned the trust do so.
What began as a one-time request is now a routine part of Barbara’s life. Her kitchen frequently resembles a bakery with a custom gift-wrapping department, as she carefully packages items in cheerful wrapping before placing them in each package. She could command a pretty retail price for each gift-stocked package she sends, but for Barbara, knowing she lifts those troops up is payment enough.
“If all I ever get from you is this email saying you know we’re here and you care,” one message read, “that’s more than enough.”
Messages like that mean the world to Barbara. As a wife and mother, she can’t imagine missing out on the moments that matter most, big and small. So when one Marine told her how lucky he’d felt to be able to watch his baby being born via SKYPE, it really rammed home to her the magnitude of military life. That a father should miss the birth of his child, or that a mother should labor alone, moved her tremendously. Now, she sometimes includes wives and mothers on her care package list.
The emails and letters mean as much to Barbara Richardson, as the care packages do to the troops.
One soldier flew a flag in Afghanistan just for her. He then mailed it to her along with a certificate of authenticity. That flag is proudly displayed in Barbara’s home, alongside challenge coins and other items sent to her by grateful troops.
Each cookie is baked with thoughts of the men and women so far from home. Each item purchased and wrapped is tucked in with the hopes of bringing a smile to a weary soul. She spends her own money on each small gift and all the ingredients for hundreds of coolies per month, as well as shipping costs. She gladly indulges her love of baking to send her special cookies, now known around the world. Barbara laughingly notes she’s the only non-teacher in the dollar aisles at the mall, and acknowledges those baking days can be long. Knowing her intentions are well-received inspires her to continue her efforts.
The troops are not the only ones to appreciate Barbara. Barclays designated her as the 2018 Woman of the Year, an honor she is humbled by. “It really blows my mind, that some of the projects I personally started are now big projects here at work,” she says.
While she’s surprised that Barclays took time to honor her, Barbara is not surprised that her company so wholeheartedly joined her efforts.
“Barclays is really terrific when it comes to community service,” Barbara explains. “It really puts its money where its mouth is.”
This is evidenced by the many initiatives it has begun, like ensuring its employees in the military receive full pay and benefits during active duty service, and actively supporting veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce. A new program links veterans with at-risk youth, with veterans serving as mentors to their young mentees.
Barclays has designated Military Support Networks that oversee numerous efforts, from food drives to hospital events to care packages and other creative, impactful programs designed to give back to the military community.
Barclays is a multinational financial giant, a titan among the investment banking and financial services world. With over 120,000 employees, it could operate solely as a machine, focused exclusively on its bottom line.
Barbara Richardson is just one person.
She could have decided her efforts would not make a difference, and declined her friend’s request. Instead, one person reached out to one Marine, and one corporation followed one employee’s lead.
Barbara Richardson describes her professional role as making sure her team has the tools it needs to do its job. One may say she does precisely the same thing for our military, for underneath their armor they are human beings, with families and dreams and fears, often faced with immense trauma and burdened with the pain of being away from people they love.
Barbara’s packages are more than cookies and small gifts. They are the tools our troops need, to find the inspiration to do what they do.