Who can argue that there are generous, giving people all around each of us? While newspapers and airwaves are full of depressing stories, it’s important that positive ones are told about exceptional organizations and people who are making the world a better place.
Their acts of kindness — both big and small — demonstrate the generosity of the American spirit. Research shows that success often fills the lives of generous people. In fact, one Wharton professor has conducted extensive research and concluded that many high-achieving people are also those who are the most giving and altruistic.
One successful entrepreneur who has a good heart is Frank VanderSloot, founder and executive chairman of the online wellness shopping club Melaleuca. A manufacturer and e-commerce company based in Idaho, Melaleuca generates over $2 billion in annual revenues by supplying its household goods to millions of shoppers each month.
In 1985, Frank penned the company’s mission statement: “to enhance the lives of those we touch by helping people reach their goals.” And based on Melaleuca’s track record, it seems that this company and its founder are living up to that lofty mission.
A decade before Melaleuca crossed the milestone of hitting $1 billion in annual revenues, and when it was far, far smaller than it is today, Frank VanderSloot created the Melaleuca Foundation as a way to do good where good is needed. He did so after watching the Sept. 11 attacks unfold, knowing he needed to take action to help those affected by the tragedy. During that initial effort, Melaleuca donated more than $800,000 to benefit first responders and their families who had fallen through the cracks.
Although VanderSloot is on the Forbes 400 list today, that does not mean he was raised with a silver spoon — quite the opposite. He was raised in poverty on a small farm in north Idaho. At age 12, Frank took on the farm’s heavy responsibilities because his father was a laborer on the railroad and lived away from the family five days a week. Frank credits his upbringing for creating a rock-hard work ethic and a love of nature.
During his youth, Frank saved every penny he could so he could be the first in his family to attend college. Once there, he found a job working at a laundromat and lived in a supply closet behind the dryers, demonstrating the power of grit and sacrifice. He continued to scrimp and save, and he graduated from college with a business degree and without any debt.
VanderSloot found success at two different Fortune 500 companies (ADP and Cox Communications) before starting up Melaleuca in September 1985. He has now become one of Idaho’s top entrepreneurial stories.
A champion of the little guy
More than that, Frank VanderSloot is known as a philanthropist and a “champion of the little guy.” Between his personal donations and those that come through the Melaleuca Foundation, VanderSloot has been able to do a tremendous amount of good and help countless people who could not help themselves.
Turning strangers into friends
An example of Frank’s generosity was shown after Hurricane Katrina when he flew to New Orleans and randomly visited a shelter in the Lower 9th Ward to see how he could assist. There, he met a family of four who had lost everything. Although they were complete strangers, Frank offered this family an extraordinary invitation: come to Idaho and live with him.
It didn’t take long for the Crawford family to weigh their bleak options and agree. They must have reasoned they had nothing left to lose, and they left that same day.
For two years, the Crawfords and the VanderSloots lived together in Frank’s house and became close friends. Frank quickly helped them find work in Idaho, and they stayed until the Crawfords rebuilt their home in Louisiana. They’ve remained friends to this day.
Saving the farms
Another example of Frank’s generosity was demonstrated when he saved 115 family farms and over 800 jobs in southeast Idaho while Melaleuca was still relatively young. After the Kraft cheese factory shut down in Blackfoot, Idaho, Frank spent $5 million to rebuild this factory even though he had no interest in the dairy business. He only did so to prevent 115 family farms from going bankrupt and to keep the factory alive so all of these dairies had a place to sell their milk. Frank’s selfless impact investing proved successful, and he is credited with saving the dairy industry in southeast Idaho.
“Without Frank VanderSloot, we might have all gone broke,” said Gaylen Clayson, a dairyman who asked for Frank’s financial support. “Frank jumped in solely to help us survive. Because Frank cared about local people, hundreds of families in southeast Idaho were able to keep their homes and farms and jobs intact.
“But the cheese plant’s longevity did not come without sacrifice,” Claysen recalled. “Frank probably lost a fair amount of money on the deal. He never told us how much he lost, and he never complained about how helping us ended up hurting him.”
Responding to natural disasters
The Melaleuca Foundation offers support in many forms, often partnering with organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Feeding America, St. Vincent de Paul, and the Boy Scouts of America. They are especially active when it comes to responding to catastrophe and natural disasters.
Over the years, the Melaleuca Foundation has raised millions of dollars, donated millions of Melaleuca’s wellness products, collected thousands of tons of food, and provided supplies and additional aid to families in need. Here are just some of the ways the Melaleuca Foundation has helped people in need:
- Relieved suffering following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Harvey, Irma, Maria, Michael, Ian and Nicole by sending truckloads, planeloads, and cargo ships full of supplies and Melaleuca products.
- Delivered aid to wildfire victims in California, Colorado, Idaho, and Tennessee.
- Rebuilt lives after tornadoes hit the Midwest.
- Provided support to families ravaged by floodwaters in Michigan, Louisiana and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
Most recently, when Hurricane Ian demolished parts of Florida’s Gulf coast in late September, Frank VanderSloot filled the company jet with the most-useful items he could fit on board: 34 electric generators, power strips, gas cans and 1,000 bottles of Sol-U-Mel, a Melaleuca cleaning product. He then coordinated with Melaleuca customers to distribute these emergency supplies to families in need throughout Cape Coral, Fort Myers, North Port, Arcadia and Naples.
He also sent tens of thousands of Melaleuca snack products to feed the hungry, and he paid for a truck full of bottled water to be sent to those staying on storm-battered Pine Island, Florida. Melaleuca also sent thousands of hygiene products that were distributed as relief kits at a Naples church.
Weeks later, after Hurricane Nicole hit Florida, Melaleuca stepped up again. This time it provided $35,000 worth of healthy snacks to the American Red Cross for those staying in shelters throughout the state. This is exactly what the Red Cross needed at that time.
In 2017, when Hurricane Maria left the 3.4 million people of Puerto Rico without power for months, the Melaleuca company jet was also filled to the brim with supplies. The jet took off with 17 generators and 2,000 pounds of jerky donated by Golden Valley Natural, the maximum weight that the plane could travel with. These generators powered a hospital, schools, temporary shelters and a nursing home.
Melaleuca also sent another $300,000 in cash and supplies to the island as well.
While the Melaleuca Foundation has received praise for its U.S. disaster response, its charitable activities are felt by others around the world. For example, Melaleuca donated $236,000 to strengthen Ukrainian refugees and $250,000 after Typhoon Rai devastated the Philippines earlier this year.
Frank, Melaleuca and its customers have also sponsored a special orphanage in Quito, Ecuador, for nearly 20 years, providing everything that the children need while they heal from abuse and neglect. The children blossom in a loving, safe environment, and their physical, mental and emotional needs are provided for. For many of the children, Santa Lucia marks the first time in their lives that their love has been reciprocated.
“Thank you, thank you, for everything you do,” said Sor Inez Calderon, the head nun at the Santa Lucia Orphanage. “We see miracles every day because of the love you have in your hearts. You are giving these children life. You are giving them hope. You are changing families’ lives. God will repay you for the wonderful work you do.”