Throw a stone into water; and ripples spread out. It’s easy to lose hope in humanity when our world feels like it’s been usurped by divisiveness, bad news, and a population more obsessed with taking selfies than making time for others. But don’t be fooled by all the negativity. Humanity’s better angels still abound—especially during the holidays, when empathy and gratitude seem to have more chance of prevailing. Operation Santa, an annual initiative started by Legacy of Hope in 2020, provides a much needed avenue for empathy. The objective was simple—provide gifts and necessities for the families of Philadelphia cancer patients who had no idea how they might have Christmas for their loved ones. Nothing extravagant, just gifts to unwrap, like a jacket, or toy. In 2020 Operation Santa “adopted” five families; that number grew to seven last year; and 2022 was looking fantastic with a total of ten families adopted by Operation Santa participants. Then, in a sequence of events perhaps best described as something straight out of a screenplay, those ten adopted families became 20, and created an exponential ripple effect of the sort that can restore one’s hope in humanity. Here’s how things unfolded.
It starts in West Deptford, New Jersey at ICS, a second generation, family-owned printing and mailing business that started in 1965 when two friends, Richard Bastian and Richard Prendergast, opened a tiny one-room print and copy facility at 13th and Sansom in center city Philly. Their bread and butter was printing church bulletins and making copies for law firms. Fast forward 58 years and the company that started as Instant Copy Services—now simply ICS—has evolved into a data management marketing, full marketing agency and production facility with roughly 350 employees, and a major expansion on the horizon. A far cry from their humble one-room beginnings, their facilities now require more than 250,000 square feet to process a hundred million pieces of mail a month; they’ll surpass a billion pieces this year.
While ICS’s growth and longevity represent a remarkable success story, what really sets this company apart is its commitment to giving back. Those values start at the top—with management that walks the walk, rather than giving lip service—and are unequivocally shared by its employee base, as evidenced by their creation of and participation in endeavors like adopting a homeless shelter in South Jersey, or sending gifts to Mercy Ministries for distribution, or holding a recent Ukrainian outreach that resulted in employees bringing in pallets full of clothes, diapers, and food. This level of community involvement seems to be woven into the fabric of the people who make up ICS.
“Our employee response is just unbelievable.” say Matt Mazzoni and Dennis Fish, who were put in charge of getting more employees involved in new outreach and volunteer projects this year. “We say, ‘ICS is doing something and they respond in force.’” The robust employee response is likely a function of ICS supporting groups suggested by their employees. Mazzoni and Fish share “We were looking for new ideas. But in all honesty we didn’t have to do much.”
Enter Jimmy Tran, a mechanic at ICS, who approached Mazzoni and Fish to see if the company might make a donation to help the family adopted by the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy where he trains—Logic Philly, recently featured in our blog.
It’s unlikely that Tran could have predicted the outcome of his inquiry. He had thrown a stone into the water; its ripples were growing in size and number—Mazzoni and Fish wanted to learn more about Operation Santa now that it was on their radar. “We reached out to Gina. Once we learned the details of the initiative and the scope of Legacy of Hope’s work, we adopted ten families. We were confident we’d get high rates of participation from our front office, which consists of administrative, sales and marketing. But we were dumbfounded when our second shift and weekend production crews pulled together $2,500 in three or four days, after receiving limited details about ICS joining forces with Operation Santa. They knew what the gist was. Their generosity was [and is] staggering.”
The ripples continued when ICS created ten Operation Santa employee teams (OSET), one for each of the adopted families; and, in addition to covering gifts for the families, agreed to match employee contributions. This shared sense of purpose goes a long way to explain the longevity of ICS employees, many of whom have stayed with the company for years and years. Mazzoni and Fish describe the culture as “a family atmosphere; so we want to give back. It’s important to us to try to keep it local. Originally we were from Philadelphia; so we have an affinity with Philly. Now that we’re in Gloucester County, we're also working with Angels Community Outreach (of south Jersey.).”
ICS’s mindset of giving back may start at the top, but it is clearly embraced by the company’s rank and file. “Once word got out, our employees said, ‘Hey, we want to help out with this.’ They have been incredibly generous with what we'll be delivering to the families we’ve adopted. I think there's going to be an outpouring of emotion that I don't know a lot of us are really ready for.” confesses Fish.
“The family that I'm taking presents to is moving into an apartment; and we learned that they lacked some basic necessities. Once again, when our people found out about this, they showed no hesitation to lend a helping hand. One of our employees, who also works part-time at a rental center, mentioned the situation to his bosses there, which resulted in them donating mattresses and a table to help get the family started. Then another employee stepped up by donating plates, and another some silverware.” Their generosity keeps expanding, like ripples in water coming back on themselves.
The following email excerpts from an ICS employee team leader give testimony to the magnitude of her team’s generosity, their above-and-beyond dedication to Operation Santa, and its unexpected effects—strengthening and creating employee bonds, along with a sense of community.
“I am leading the group who is sponsoring Michelle’s family this Christmas! Firstly, we absolutely love how humble their family’s list is. We were hoping to get a few more ideas for them. Do they need clothing? Shoes? If so, please get us some sizes. Also, is there possibly one big item that they each want?...We were considering purchasing each child a Nintendo Switch. Do you think this is something you could check in with Mom about?....Would it be okay to deliver a Christmas dinner for eight to the family?”
“During our time together, we all got to share about someone we love who has been affected by cancer and tell stories about them. It was a great time of reflection, and really put us in the true holiday spirit. Providing Christmas for Michelle and her kids brought us together in a way we were not expecting. The members of our team do not work together in the same departments, or even on the same shifts. We had people stayi