Pat Bates, with one more load for the food shelf.

After almost 26 years at Gardener’s Supply, Pat Bates will be remembered for many things. To some people, she was the one who always raised her hand with a question at the annual meeting. Others will remember her as a champion for employee-ownership. To me, she is the one who reminded us that together, we can make a difference — no matter how busy we are.

Over the years, Pat has been part of the team that collects donations for the local food shelf. All we had to do was bring in a can of beans, a box of pasta or, better yet, something we’d grown in our gardens. Pat would make sure it got delivered. In her cheerful, persistent way, she kept the issue of hunger at the fore, reminding us that we could always help by bringing something for the collection box, which sits in the front entry of our Burlington, VT, headquarters.

Pat believes in the power of working together, as employee-owners or volunteers in a food drive. By shining a spotlight on hunger and making it simple to help, the effort gains momentum; it goes “viral.” In the last 15 months, Gardener’s Supply employees contributed 4,500 pounds of food — more than 2 tons.

“Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the little things we do, well, they aren’t so little. They make a big difference,” Pat pointed out.

When she retired last month, Pat didn’t leave with a gold watch or a big party. She didn’t want that. Pat retired with another load for the food shelf. More than 300 pounds were donated by fellow employees to honor Pat during her last week at Gardener’s Supply.

“That was the greatest retirement gift that people could have given me,” Pat said. “I couldn’t believe how many people came by my desk to drop off food during that week.”

What now? Pat has moved on to the Next Big Thing, but the box by the front door remains. And already it is filling up with little things that make a big difference.

David Grist, Gardener’s Supply