Doing good
How The Wonderful Company Helped A California Town Find Itself Again
Kim Lachance Shandrow | December 22, 2016

For The Wonderful Company, being “wonderful” reaches beyond its catchy name. It echoes the Los Angeles-based food and beverage corporation’s exceptional commitment to deeply investing in the communities where its employees live, work, and play.

Take, for example, the once-sleepy town of Lost Hills, Calif., a dusty rural sprawl 145 miles north of L.A. Wonderful — makers of POM Wonderful, Wonderful Pistachios, and Fiji Water — has operated near the farming enclave for three-plus decades. Some 50 percent of the households in the unincorporated town are home to at least one individual who works at the company’s pistachio orchards and processing plant 13 miles away.

When Wonderful owners Lynda and Stewart Resnick discovered that the rural enclave lacked paved roads, streetlights, sidewalks, and sufficient sewage — infrastructure basics that many of us take for granted — they decided to do something about it, starting with restoring hope.

“As a leading employer across California’s Central Valley, we are committed to giving back in the places where our employees live and work, and nowhere does that promise ring truer than in Lost Hills, where we’ve dedicated our time and resources to revitalizing the community and giving its residents life-changing opportunities and a renewed spirit of hometown pride,” Lynda Resnick said in a statement announcing the company’s recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center 2016 Corporate Citizenship Award.

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As the first step in making a change, Wonderful employees went to work getting to know the town’s residents. They asked them about their hopes for the future, focusing on the parts of their lives they’d most like to see improved.

To gather as much community input as possible, company representatives attended school board and water district meetings, sitting and chatting with scores of citizens along the way. Then, literally walking the walk, they conducted door-to-door in-person surveys at each of the town’s 550 residences in 2010 and 2013.

The Wonderful Company’s Lost Hills, California, pistachio farm and processing plant.

The Wonderful Company’s Lost Hills, California, pistachio farm and processing plant.

“We wanted to make certain we captured residents’ needs, wants, and visions for their families, especially their children,” Mark Carmel, Wonderful corporate communications associate director, told the Chamber.

Next, the company brought governmental stakeholders into the fold. Among them were representatives from Lost Hills’ parks and recreations department, the local transit provider, and the board of supervisors. With dedication and teamwork from these and other public entities, Wonderful helped the town secure significant tax credits.

Finally, with resources in place from Wonderful’s in-house capital improvements team, it was time to roll out the first major improvement: transforming the town’s blighted park into a vibrant community center, complete with a shared kitchen, a neighboring sports field, and a lush garden.

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There, at the intersection of Highway 46 and Lost Hills Road — not far from a colorfully muraled tower that reads “You Have Found Lost Hills” — the town’s families were able to once again safely exercise, socialize, and play together outdoors. The community center eventually grew so popular that Wonderful went all-in and built a second one.

The corporation also refurbished the town’s rundown soccer field and basketball court, built a second soccer field and a volleyball court, and created a mile-long walkway that winds around the solar light-illuminated park. Then came Gabby’s Grill & Café, the town’s first sit-down restaurant. Wonderful helped make the Mexican fare eatery and catering company possible through a small business loan and construction support.

Wonderful Park in Lost Hills, Calif.

Wonderful Park in Lost Hills, Calif.

In all, throughout its years-long effort to give back to those who work to further its mission and reach, the company has invested more than $15 million to revitalize Lost Hills. During the sweeping revitalization, the town’s crime rate has gone down by 80 percent. Also with Wonderful’s assistance, Lost Hills secured its first voter polling place in June 2016 and is now on the path to becoming incorporated.

But Wonderful’s wonderful work there isn’t done yet.

Next Fall, a charter school supported by the company will open its doors, further extending the sense of pride brought back to its diverse neighborhoods.

“There’s now much more of a community feel,” Carmel said. “The transformation of Lost Hills over the last few years has been remarkable and demonstrates the positive impact business can have on a community by investing resources and fully engaging residents.”