We’re Going To Need A Bigger Backpack
Mitch Rhodus is a giver. As the owner of WIT Promo, an affiliate of HALO Branded Solutions, Rhodus is well-known in the promotional products industry for his service on the board of the Tri-State Promotional Products Association, and on the PPAI Government Relations Action Committee . He has been a prominent industry representative at PPAI’s Legislative Education And Action Day in Washington, D.C. every year, and his personal relationship with former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has elevated the Association’s exposure and influence on Capitol Hill.
An industry veteran, Rhodus began his career in the promotional products industry in 1988. He became interested in the industry while purchasing promotional items for GE, his employer at the time. He made the decision to join ESKO, Inc., which was then sold to HALO. The move gave Rhodus and his team the back office, supplier and IT support that they needed, and he’s never looked back.
Rhodus is passionately engaged in his local community of Fairfield, Ohio, where he was born and raised. Through his involvement with the Fairfield Rotary Club, he has been donating overruns, misprints and samples to medical mission trips for years. Nine years ago, he decided to take a more hands-on approach.
What made you decide to join a medical mission to Haiti?
I was making donations for medical trips through a friend of mine who is a doctor. He repeatedly told me, “People come to our clinics for your samples, and while they are there, we save their lives.”
After the earthquake in 2010, 300,000 Haitians lost their lives, and the humanitarian need was enormous. My friend asked me to join him on the trip, and I fell in love with the people of Haiti. I realized just how desperate they are for basic medical attention, and if our industry could help in any way, I wanted to be a part of it.
What is your role on the medical team?
There are 18 people on the team: four doctors, four nurses, one pharmacist and seven other [untrained] people like me. After the first year, I offered to take over the logistics of leading the group, so I don’t even carry a Band-Aid.
What is the itinerary for each trip?
We visit a different village each day over five days. The villages are located up in the mountains where there is no access to clean water or electricity. Most of the people there live in mud shacks. Many have no clothing, and those that do, have clothing that is extremely dirty and worn out.
We are lucky enough to be sponsored by Caring Partners International, a medical mission organization that provides us with supplies. This year they secured over $162,000 worth of medicine for us to dispense. So, we each wore a backpack, carried two 50-pound duffels full of medicine and promotional items and rolled our carry-ons behind us. We treated 1,357 patients this year.
What role do promotional products play in the mission trips?
It is hard to explain how important our products are to these missions. When you give someone in need a t-shirt, hat or LED pocket flashlight, their faces light up. Many of them live in total darkness at night, so LED lights are like gold to them. If we give them something they don’t want, they will trade it for food for their family.
We have seen women walking up the mountain roads with tote bags on their heads that we gave them years ago. These are the simple grocery bags that we often sell for under $1.
Are there plans to expand the program in the future?
We stay in an orphanage called Destiny Village near St. Marc, and unfortunately there are only 18 beds there, so there’s not really a way to expand our team. However, I would love to see a second team go down there later in the year. There is a lot of work with planning and logistics, and I would be happy to help another group get organized.
What else do you like to do in your free time?
I play racquetball twice a week, I am active in Boy Scouts and serve on the board of directors for Telhio, the fourth largest credit union in Ohio.
Lois, my wife, is my high school sweetheart. My son, Brad, is in business with me, and my daughter, Katie, has twin four-year-olds. Lois and I love spending time with our grandkids—they spend every Saturday night with us until Sunday after church.
Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.