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Unilever, UNCP partner for a community nutrition program


With 400 leading consumer brands worldwide, Unilever Corporation also lays claim to be a leader of the corporate sustainability movement.

Unilever’s growing Raeford, N.C., manufacturing facility, which makes products for the North American market, is a leader among the company’s operations. When the plant went shopping for an investment in the community, it found a match at UNC Pembroke.

Plant Manager Georgia Szweczak and Evan Davenport, Safety, Health, Environment and Quality Manager, sat down with University officials on October 27 to discuss the gift that will help launch a major community health and wellness initiative.

“Our partnership with UNCP is aligned with our corporate goals,” Szweczak said. “Health and wellness are important to Unilever and on target for this community.

“For instance, we will close our plant for a day on November 5 to hold a Safety, Health and Environment Day with our employees,” the plant manager said. “The education and nutrition aspect of your program is a good fit for us.

“I see UNCP as a nucleus of a program that moves out to community colleges, public schools and into the community,” Szweczak said.

For UNCP, it is a partnership that will jump start a program that is two years in the making, said Dr. Cherry Beasley, a member of the nursing faculty and a coordinator of UNCP’s “Rural Health and Wellness Collaborative: Nutrition Project.”

Dr. Beasley said Unilever’s commitment to social justice is welcome news. She discussed the early stages of the University’s initiative and its future.

“Thus far, we have surveyed local healthcare providers, our faculty and staff and the Lumbee Tribe to inventory our resources,” Dr. Beasley said. “Our intention is to engage all of UNCP’s resources, and it is amazing what we have found.”

Three programs are planned for the next year with Unilever’s aid:

  • An Honoring Native American Food Ways event on November 9 that will sample Native foods, provide nutrition and health education and cooking demonstrations from Lumbee Elders and the Cooperative Extension Service.
  • An African-American Read-in project for elementary school students: the Nutrition Project will provide education through reading, books and healthy snacks.
  • A Diabetes Across the Life Span program is planned for healthcare providers.

Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, a social work professional and chair of UNCP’s American Indian Studies Department, is co-chairing the Rural Health and Wellness Collaborative: Nutrition Project.

“What we have tried to do is join with existing programs and carry our message,” Dr. Jacobs said. “We want to involve as many groups as possible – the tribes, students, faculty and staff as well as local farmers.

“The Unilever gift will be used to purchase healthy food and educational materials,” she said.

Chancellor Kyle R. Carter said the University would shift the food paradigm for an entire region beginning at the University.

“One of the unique opportunities we have is our students,” Chancellor Carter said. “A huge percentage of our students are from this region, and 29 percent of our freshmen are from Robeson County.

“In a nutrition study by Sodexo, our food services provider, our students rated very poorly with a high preference for low cost, low value foods,” he said. “Our nutritional education program at the University could have a huge impact right here.

“I’m pleased to see faculty involvement in this program,” Dr. Carter concluded.

Unilever’s Raeford facility has 275 employees and expects to add 30 additional workers in the next year. They make Dove, Degree and Axe antiperspirants for all of North America and several brands of shampoo and body wash for the East Coast market.

Szewczak said the highly automated plant is a leader for quality and safety among Unilever operations. Davenport, who is a 1986 UNCP graduate, travels throughout North and South America to consult with other company facilities on best practices.

“This is a very exciting time for the Raeford plant,” she said.

Company and University officials engaged in a wide-ranging conversation concerning workforce and student development issues.

Unilever contributed $8,000 to the nutrition program. Evan Davenport, who chairs an affiliate organization, the American Society for Quality, a local chapter comprised of representatives from regional manufactures, contributed $2,000 to a scholarship, said Alisia Oxendine, UNCP’s director for major gifts.

“It has been my privilege to work with Unilever, a global corporation only a few miles from our campus. Unilever has been exceptionally generous, providing merchandise for several events,” Oxendine said. “We especially enjoyed working with Evan because he is one of our graduates and his support has really made a difference in forging a partnership with the Unilever Corporation.”

For more information about this program, contact the Office for Advancement at 910.521.6252 or email