Family-owned store chain donates supplies to hospitals

By Margaret Steen
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As the COVID-19 pandemic grew, nationwide retailer Harbor Freight Tools removed protective gear that could be used by medical professionals from its shelves and distribution centers. Then the company, which sells discount tools and equipment, put out a call to hospitals in the communities where it has stores, asking if they needed donations of N95 masks, face shields and nitrile gloves.

“Although we certainly won’t have enough of these supplies to fill everyone’s needs, we’re going to donate everything we’ve got,” wrote Eric Smidt, the company’s founder and owner, in a letter to the Harbor Freight community. “We’ve chosen to focus our efforts on hospitals with a 24-hour emergency room with the hope that we can help as many people as possible right now.”

The response was swift: “over 13,000 applications from hospitals and more than 43,000 email recommendations from customers,” Smidt wrote in an update. “Over the next several days, we will be shipping more than 44 million pair of nitrile gloves and hundreds of thousands of masks and face shields to hospitals in over 1,000 communities that our stores serve.”

Harbor Freight Tools was founded in 1977 by Smidt and his father. Today, it has about 20,000 employees nationwide and 1,035 stores, as well as an online business. The company is headquartered in Calabasas, Calif.

The business is considered essential because it provides tools to those sheltering at home as well as to the skilled tradespeople who keep other essential organizations running, according to a company spokesperson.

To keep operating, Harbor Freight has increased sanitization efforts in its stores, distribution centers and offices and is reminding customers to stay six feet apart. The company is providing paid sick leave to employees affected by the virus. 

The donation is just one part of the company’s and family’s philanthropy. Harbor Freight makes donations to K-12 education, first responders and veterans. The Smidt Foundation also makes donations in areas including the arts and skilled trade education. And in 2018, Eric and Susan Smidt and the Smidt Foundation announced a $50 million gift to Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles to create the Smidt Heart Institute, which aims to advance research and innovative practices in cardiology and cardiovascular surgery. 

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