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Getting to Know our Neighbors – a Tour of Tambrands in Auburn

The Tambrands plant on Hotel Road in Auburn is imposing.  I’ve always wondered what was behind the blue walls with the tinted windows, and recently I had the opportunity to find out.

I’m the Food Resource Developer for Good Shepherd Food Bank.  I work with businesses like Tambrands to help them donate product that would otherwise be thrown away.  Tambrands has been a faithful donor to the Food Bank for many years (donating both food and tampons).  People with SNAP benefits (food stamps) can buy food with their benefits, but tampons don’t qualify, so they are definitely a popular item with our partner agencies.

I was thrilled when Naomi Williams, Tambrands’ HR Benefits Leader, agreed to set up a tour for me and three other staff members from the Food Bank.  It was perfect timing, because the Food Bank had just received notification that Procter & Gamble (Tambrands’ parent company) was donating $20,000 to start a BackPack Program in the Auburn area.  The Backpack Program makes sure that kids who might normally be hungry on the weekends go home each Friday with a bag full of easy-to-prepare food.

The morning of our tour, Naomi escorted us to the conference room, where we were greeted warmly by other members of the Tambrands team. We were given a short presentation on the history of Tambrands.  The 500,000 square-foot plant is one of only two plants in the world that make Tampax tampons.  The 450 employees at the Auburn plant produce nine million tampons a day, to supply the needs of all of North America.  Tambrands is the only facility to house the Research and Development branches of the company, so there are a lot of innovative ideas at the Auburn warehouse.  Another important aspect of the plant is that none of their waste material goes into a landfill; all of it is recycled in one way or another.

After the presentation, we were outfitted with hearing protection, safety glasses, steel-toed slippers, and headphones. Jodie, our tour guide, led us through the huge plant at a brisk pace, talking non-stop into her microphone about the process for making the tampons.  One thing I found interesting was the absence of people.  I knew they had 450 employees, but we saw only a few people during our tour.  Frequently we had to pause to make sure we didn’t run into one of the automated carts that traveled throughout the plant, moving items from one area to another.  They formerly employed a person to walk around all day pushing the cart.  Jodie said they had done a lot of automating recently, but that no one lost their jobs because of it.  The machines freed up the people to do the more important jobs.

Another interesting part of the tour was watching the machine create the Pearl tampons.  Tampons are made of a combination of rayon and cotton, with rayon being the more absorbent of the two.  The two types of fibers are spun into a solid mat, and an absorbent cord is then sewn into the mat, which is compressed for insertion into the tampon applicator.

Toward the end of the tour, we visited the FlexiCenter.  The 20 employees of the FlexiCenter, nine of whom are disabled, make end-cap displays for retail stores.   The FlexiCenter was so named because the employees work a flexible schedule based on the orders.  The FlexiCenter is based on a model created by Walgreens, one of Tambrands’ business partners.  One way in which the FlexiCenter differs from the Walgreens model is that all the FlexiCenter workers are direct employees of Tambrands, rather than contractors, which was something the Tambrands HR group felt was very important.

What impressed me most about the Tambrands tour wasn’t the machinery or the products, although those were certainly remarkable.  I was more impressed by the people, though.  I thought we were going to come in and meet one person, who would give us the tour.  Instead we met seven very busy people who took the time to spend a few minutes with us, and who made us feel like we were their honored guests.  Tambrands is truly a cutting-edge company, and Good Shepherd Food Bank is so proud to have them as a partner in the fight against hunger!