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Originally published Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM


Nonprofit offers Santa a helping hand, opportunities for its staff

Only one thing will make this "the most wonderful time of the year" for many local companies, and that's getting their products to the stores...

Special to The Seattle Times


To learn more about Pioneer

Human Services, go to:

Only one thing will make this "the most wonderful time of the year" for many local companies, and that's getting their products to the stores on time and in the hands of eager holiday shoppers.

But even Santa needs a little help, and sometimes it's found among the least likely of people.

Lacie Parrino spent five years in prison but now serves as a customer-service supervisor. Men who have just kicked their drug and alcohol habits make their hands useful on assembly lines. And Po Na Wan, who recently immigrated from China and doesn't speak English, is a whiz at sticking security tags on video-game components.

They are part of a team at the Pioneer Human Services packaging and distribution center in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood, becoming productive members of society and working hard to help make others' wish lists come true this season.

The mission of Pioneer Human Services, a nonprofit "social enterprise" company that gives people "a chance for change," is to give hundreds of hard-to-hire people an opportunity to learn job skills, earn a wage and receive other necessary services, said LorieAnn Larson, senior management associate.

The packaging and distribution center, part of Pioneer's Work Skills Training Programs, is abuzz with 130 full-time and temporary employees, working to meet the holiday rush. But Pioneer also needs workers year-round.

"If they come to us and need a job, we will hire them," said David Lawson, director of Pioneer Human Services.

Along with its manufacturing, construction, food-distribution and catering divisions, the Pioneer distribution center is just one area of success for the organization that has earned the business — and praise — of many local companies, including Nintendo, Made in Washington and Sasquatch Books.

"We love, love, love that they're doing it," said Nintendo of America's vice president of marketing, Perrin Kaplan, on the packaging services Pioneer provides for the Redmond company.

Kaplan said Nintendo admires the organization's mission and "it's just the time of year when people have a lot of wish lists for things and if there's any way that, as a company, we can do our part for the community, that kind of thing's really an important focus for us."

Pioneer is contracted through next month to package more than 900,000 Wii Zappers, an accessory for the popular Wii home-video-game console, which has sold about 5 million units in the United States since its 2006 debut, according to market-research firm, The NPD Group.

"They've been flying off the shelves so we need them to pack, pack fast," Kaplan said.

It's also during this "flying off the shelves" time of year that Lawson said almost half of Pioneer's packaging and distribution revenue is earned.

Already under its belt is the work Pioneer has done for Made in Washington, a retailer of all things Northwest.

November was spent carefully packaging blown-glass ornaments and bowls for Made in Washington, services that the Seattle company's general manager, April Lauseng, said they were "very pleased with."

"We look to support businesses that have social causes," Lauseng said, adding, "and ultimately our customers are looking for great service and great products. You can't do one without the other."

Pioneer serves as the main distribution center for Sasquatch Books in Seattle, and the publisher's operations manager, Lorie Utigard, has been impressed with the service.

"Right now it's crazy down there," said Utigard, "so I know that they are putting a lot of hours in, but they've always been very professional and very reliable."

Nintendo's Kaplan couldn't agree more.

"They are highly professional, and right now they're completely the 'elves,' " she said. "And I have to tell you that for every person who gets something under the tree or under the menorah this year, those elves are invaluable."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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