Warm Hearts,
Deep Pockets

Our annual roundup of generous Vermonters

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

When the night is the darkest, the starlight shines brightest.

That’s the thought that occurred to me as I reviewed the 178 releases we received during the last year extolling the generosity of the Vermont business community.

Not-so-random acts of kindness, creative approaches to charitable fund-raising, and most important, it seemed there were many more of them than we’ve received in the prior years. That’s, of course, only a guesstimate — we haven’t tracked them — but the in-box where they’re held was much fuller this year.

Of course, there were many more than 178 acts of generosity in Vermont; this number represents only the ones we learned about — probably a small drip. Still, it amounts to more than one generous gift every two days.

The creativity expressed in some of the programs was impressive. One in particular stood out, quite possibly because of its year-long scope. The law firm of Langrock, Sperry & Wool, which has offices in Middlebury and Burlington, announced in February the launch of a year-long celebration of its 50 years of service in Vermont called “50 for the 50th.” Every month, Langrock has made a gift that displays the thought that went into this project and the participation of every person on the Langrock team.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then readers wishing to find a way to celebrate something special could learn much from the Langrock program. For example, one month the firm gave 50 first-aid kits for Girls on the Run teams in northern Vermont. Fifty books were donated to the library of the Salisbury Community School. Fifty trees were provided to the town of Middlebury for help establishing its own nursery and to Branch Out Burlington, a volunteer organization that has been planting trees there since 1996.

In September and October, the firm funded 50 days of dairy deliveries for Elderly Services of Middlebury. Included were milk, cream, buttermilk, ice cream, yogurt, butter, and eggs. And 50 children of soldiers deployed with the Vermont National Guard, along with their families, were taken to Addison County Farm & Field Days.

Langrock’s wasn’t the only anniversary celebration to reach out. Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Inc., which has stores in Barre, Williston, and St. Albans, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Mark McCarthy, the owner, created a program to give back to the community. In August, each store chose a local charity to benefit from the sale, for $1 each, of reusable nylon shopping bags with the Lenny’s logo on it.

“Giving in Vermont,” a report by the Vermont Community Foundation last year, found that Vermonters volunteer 20.6 million hours of service each year, accounting for an estimated $416.2 million in value. It also found that Vermonters are more generous with their time, but donate less money when compared to national averages.

The research showed a philanthropic divide between states with the most resources and those with the least. Like Vermont — ranked 48th — nearly every state with the least resources is rural. Most of the foundation grants awarded nationally support education and health. However, Vermont foundations give more than the national average to human services, public affairs/society benefit, and the environment. You can find the entire report at www.understandingvt.org.

Still education plays a large role in the hearts of Vermonters and Vermont businesses. The ways to benefit education outnumber the kinds of education programs there are. A fun example is the Giant Pumpkin Regatta sponsored by New England Federal Credit Union. This year’s event — wherein teams made boats from giant pumpkins and raced them in the lake — raised $21,000 through sponsorships, activities, and vendors. The event benefited Linking Learning to Life’s PILOT (Program to Inspire Leadership, Opportunity, and Thought) Program. It probably also benefited the participants with a lot a laughs.

A more straightforward program to benefit education came in the form of six $1,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors with a history of strong academic achievement and service to the community. These were offered by Vermont Federal Credit Union. Vermont Federal also joined radio stations 99.9 The Buzz and 106.7 WIZN at Costco sponsoring the collection of food — 12,649 pounds of it — for the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf.

Funding or collecting school supplies for less fortunate kids is a popular way companies and their employees give to the community. Price Chopper has conducted a Tools for Schools program for eight years. Creative Habitat and the United Way of Chittenden County teamed up this year to create the first Craft United Club Goes Back to School event to collect school and art supplies for United Way member agencies whose programs support local children, teens, and families. In October, almost 90 pounds of supplies were distributed to five United Way member agencies.

Formal schools aren’t the only centers of education, of course, and some companies aim their philanthropic efforts toward other kinds of teaching. Kinney Pike Insurance in Rutland, for example, donated to the Vermont First Tee National School Program Initiative of the Vermont Golf Association. The program supports students in kindergarten through fifth grade in 60 Vermont elementary schools and 12,300 students who take part, “by teaching a physical education program that promotes character development and life-enhancing values through golf.”

Most intriguing was the $10,000 donated by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to support the Wellness and Resiliency Program of the South Burlington school district, which trains young people in exercising calming practices and stress management. The company showed particular interest in the district’s teacher and teen retreats that were offered last summer at the Omega Institute.

Other large companies were equally as generous. TD Charitable Foundation provided a grant of $50,000 to Champlain Housing Trust for its Housing for Everyone program, to implement an innovative pilot program to reduce the energy bills of owners of the Housing Trust’s shared-equity homes. FairPoint’s Volunteer Incentive Program recognizes employees’ contributions of time and talent by giving up to $1,500 to an organization designated by each employee who volunteers at least 50 hours a year. Northfield Savings Bank has so many beneficiaries it’s difficult to separate them. They are as varied as the communities the bank serves.

A clever public-private cooperation was launched by Vermont Public Television and Chittenden Bank (now People’s United). Viewers who contributed to VPT’s year-end fundraising campaign supported two community organizations: VPT and the Vermont Foodbank. Chittenden, a longtime supporter of VPT, offered to donate three meals to the Foodbank for every contribution to the statewide public television network. By Dec. 31 last year, VPT had received 9,433 contributions, which meant 28,300 meals for Vermonters who depend on local food shelves. In January, Kathy Schirling, director of marketing and community services at the bank, and Lee Ann Lee, vice president marketing and development for VPT, presented a check for $30,000 to Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles at the Foodbank warehouse in Barre.

Each year, we learn of more creative ways to raise funds for community service. Projects great and small, management- or employee-driven, wide ranging or narrow in focus — great ideas to be copied and built upon.

So go ahead, steal these ideas. Nobody will mind, because the benefit accrues to us all. Tap into the interests of your employees. You’ll be setting a good example while you’re making the world a better place. •