Hours after deadly tornadoes on March 25 struck northeastern Alabama, Jody Free arranged and personally delivered a variety of supplies to the Calhoun County Emergency Management Office. Free, senior purchasing manager at Schnitzer Steel’s Attalla, Ala., metals recycling yard, recently chatted with Scrap News about the leadup to the tornadoes, and the quick actions she took to help those in need afterward.

How you were introduced to the recycling industry, and what about it do you find most appealing?

I was introduced to the recycling industry almost 30 years ago. My husband worked for a local aluminum foundry. The first thing I learned was the process of melting recycled aluminum to reintroduce back into the market. In 1995, I went to work for Gulf States Steel in Gadsden, Ala. One of my responsibilities was to cut steel that was not usable in production. That steel was then sold to Schnitzer Steel to recycle. To me, recycling prevents pollution, saves energy and reduces damage to the environment.

How did you end up at Schnitzer Steel, and what does your current role entail?

I started at Schnitzer Steel in August 2008 as an assistant maintenance supervisor. During that time, I also worked as a part-time buyer. In 2011, I was promoted to purchasing manager. I was in charge of the southeast region, which was 15 locations at that time. In February 2021, I was promoted to senior purchasing manager in charge of the East Coast procurement team. I am responsible for local execution of the tactical purchasing plans, for implementing contract pricing, terms and conditions, and working to use our preferred vendors. I collaborate with procurement and operational leaders to implement and support supplier management, and to locate and purchase necessary yard supplies, equipment, parts and services in alignment with procurement policies.

What do you enjoy most about working at Schnitzer Steel?

I enjoy working for a company that is active and supports local charities and helping others, such as food drives and school supply drives. Schnitzer has very strong core values and has received the World’s Most Ethical Company Award seven times. That speaks a lot to me. Schnitzer gives back to communities and allows its employees to do the same. I work with an outstanding group of people.

You delivered supplies just hours after deadly tornadoes struck near the company’s facility. Can you take me back to that day and your mindset once you heard help was needed? How were you able to act so quickly?

Living in the South, you’re always watching the weather. In the days leading up to the deadly tornadoes, all of the weather models on the local news channels were predicting strong storms. Several waves of tornadoes came through over a couple hours. The one that hit Calhoun County came later in the afternoon, and I began to see reports about the devastation and fatalities.

I’ve been a volunteer fireman for almost 30 years, so I know what the support crews face. That evening,  I heard about the need for various types of supplies, so I reached out to local management to get the approvals to donate what we could. As a result of COVID-19, Schnitzer Steel had bought hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves for company use. I had them stored in my office, and would send them out as needed. I made arrangements to deliver them the next morning to aid in the recovery effort.

What response did you receive when you delivered the supplies?

I was eagerly welcomed by coordinators and thanked for providing the needed supplies. Supplies were very limited since the storm was the night before.

Why is it important for people to help others in need like you did?

For me, it was the right thing to do. We are taught to help others and put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes. Knowing people had lost everything and their lives were totally shattered, it was the least we could do.