Engineering corporations support efforts to help the homeless

Lava Mae's First Hygiene Machine is Retrofitted for the Road

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Tech companies are not the only ones with buses rolling throughout San Francisco to serve a growing community. Nonprofit start-up Lava Mae is in the process of outfitting its first city-donated MUNI bus with showers and toilets to provide hygiene and dignity for the city’s homeless. The bus will hit the streets Spring 2014 thanks, in large part, to Sacramento-based AIRCO Mechanical, Inc., South Carolina-based Continental Tire the Americas, LLC, and Wisconsin-based Kohler Co whose contributions are making the bus service- and road-ready.

The retrofit, which began in mid-January, is being led by AIRCO, Northern CA’s leading designers of state-of-the-art of mechanical systems for major commercial, industrial, and institutional projects throughout the region. Representing a huge departure for AIRCO, the build out of Lava Mae’s bus provides a very visible opportunity for the company to demonstrate its commitment to the community while showcasing its ability to think outside the box and deploy existing systems in new ways.

"Ever since opening a fabrication facility on Treasure Island last year, we’ve been looking for a way to connect to the region in a meaningful way," says Joe Hanely, AIRCO’s Chief Operating Officer. "Working with Lava Mae fits the bill and then some as it’s a project that could have global impact as communities look to replicate it and, internally, our employees are having a great time doing something so totally different from what they normally do."

With the donation of four sets of new commercial tires – for the first bus and three more to be retrofitted in 2015 – Continental Tire the Americas, LLC is helping to fulfill Lava Mae’s dream of mobility by ensuring safety and sustainability for its buses. Equally significant, Continental’s commitment to observing human rights is echoed in Lava Mae’s mission to address what the U.N. and World Health Organization define as a basic human right – access to water and sanitation.

"Continental is proud to have the opportunity to step in and provide the bus tires that will be needed to bring the Lava Mae buses directly to the areas where people need this important service. It is our hope that this donation of tires will help jump start this unique mobile initiative and get it ready to serve the homeless community. To this end, we have also chosen to supply them with bus tires that are specifically designed for the urban environment, so that the Lava Mae initiative can keep rolling safely and helping people for a long time," said Tom Fanning, Continental’s director of replacement truck tire sales for North and Central America.

Also contributing to the outfitting of the first bus, with a donation of bathroom fixtures, is Kohler Co whose dedication to incorporating environmental, health and safety considerations into all its activities is evident in its support of Lava Mae.

"Kohler Co. is pleased to be part of this project," said Robert Zimmerman, Sr. Channel Manager, Sustainability. "Our Mission Statement compels us to contribute to a higher level of gracious living for those touched by our products and services. We hope that San Francisco’s homeless who use Lava Mae’s hygiene machine are able to experience what many of us take for granted—a clean, relaxing and dignified place to take care of their washing and sanitation needs."

All three companies have worked closely with Lava Mae bus designer Brett Terpeluk who was lead architect under Renzo Piano for the California Academy of Sciences and now heads his own residential and commercial architecture firm.

Lava Mae is a project defined by collaboration between local government (SF Mayor’s Office of H.O.P.E, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency/MUNI, San Francisco Department of Public Health), key local nonprofits (Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, Project Homeless Connect, San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium, and others) and now the private sector. By working together, we strengthen our community and, in this case specifically, make it possible for people to recover their humanity by delivering dignity one shower at a time. Lava Mae is close to meeting its funding goal of $375,000 but needs to close a gap of $60,000. 

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