Warm Hearts, Deep Pockets

Food for thought — and action

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

In 2008, for no real reason other than curiosity, we began saving releases that our readers sent us outlining what they were doing to give back to the community. In November of that year, we took a look at the collection and, amazed by the sheer number of releases outlining the many, varied, and creative ways Vermont businesses had found to do just that, we decided to write about it in our December issue.

For the most part, these releases do not make it into our magazine unless a nonprofit gives a special award of appreciation, which we publish in our Honors & Awards department. As each December looms, we comb through the hundreds of releases we’ve saved, hoping to find a theme of some kind on which to base that year’s story.

The first year, we concentrated on the giving policies of four larger businesses — Chittenden Bank, Northfield Savings Bank, Vermont State Employees Credit Union, and Vermont Coffee — with a few paragraphs at the end offering suggestions of how companies might contribute.

In 2009, we took a different approach to the same subject, targeting the ways Vermont business people contribute to education and, conversely, the ways educational institutions give back to the community.

Last year’s approach was more generic, outlining clever public-private projects.

This year? This year has seen a deluge of generosity (and an equal deluge of releases in our in-box, inspired at least in part by the deluge of water that tore across the state). By November, it became pretty clear that addressing hunger was at the top of many, many companies’ lists. And for good reason.

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Neighborhood families of the South End weathered snow to gather in the gymnasium of the King Street Center and enjoy a warm, nutritious meal last December during the 19th Windjammer Holiday Celebration. Vicky Smith, executive director of the King Street Center, and Tom O’Connell, the Windjammer’s vice president of operations, take a moment away from the festivities.

A release from the Vermont Foodbank cited a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in September that 13.8 percent of Vermont residents are food insecure, according to a three-year average.

Another study, out in August, showed that 20.7 percent of children in Vermont under the age of 18 are struggling with hunger. That’s over one-fifth! And this data was gathered before taking into account the fallout from Tropical Storm Irene.

So it makes sense that hunger has been on Vermonters’ minds this year. Sure, you can write a check, but why not make it fun to raise the dollars? To help get your creative juices flowing, we’ve gleaned a few ideas from the hundreds of innovative approaches we reviewed. Check the photo captions for even more ideas.

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Last December, the folks at Green Mountain Harley-Davidson hosted the third annual Chili Polar Ride & Cook Off to benefit the Burlington Emergency Shelter. Festivities involved a group ride, chili tasting, Best Chili awards, and, of course, a visit from Santa. In July, Green Mountain Harley held its seventh annual Ride for the Guard, which helps support the families of deployed troops. Registration fee included doughnuts and bagels, compliments of Dunkin’ Donuts and Hannaford’s Essex Junction store.

• Central Vermont Medical Center took a flow-through approach to donating food, when it distributed one 12-pound turkey to each full-time, part-time, and per diem employee and volunteer in appreciation for their hard work during the year. Approximately 75 employees and volunteers chose to donate their turkeys to the Vermont Foodbank. Note that the Foodbank supplies more than 280 network partners statewide for local distribution.

• A young Vermont couple, Lyz Tomsuden and Eric Mallette, who live in Rutland designed a logo called I Am Vermont Strong, intending to harness the good energies rising in Vermont communities after the storm. They put the image on a T-shirt, and the online campaign quickly went viral. More than 4,000 T-shirts were sold. They presented a check for $60,000 to the Foodbank for its post-Irene recovery efforts.

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Kendi Hough, an employee of People’s United Bank, volunteered on Martin Luther King Day to fill backpacks for area children. The program is one of three youth-targeted feeding programs of the Vermont Foodbank to address childhood hunger and nutrition outside the scope of traditional food shelves. The People’s United Community Foundation awarded $20,000 to the Foodbank. In November, People’s United Bank and Vermont Public Television joined forces to raise $15,000 for the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund. Any contribution to VPT supported the statewide public network and sparked a donation to the fund from People’s United.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott was so impressed by this, he re-branded his race car for the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, temporarily replacing his sponsor logos with a large We Are Vermont Strong emblem on the hood and other Vermont destination decals elsewhere on the car.

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In April, Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel presented the Williston Food Shelf with $807.14 on behalf of its staff and customers. The store’s “Dimes for No Bags” promotion put a dime into a jar each time a customer did not take a shopping bag. Customers also added their own spare change. Williston store manager Isreal Bushey, presented the donation to Jeanne Jensen, vice president and treasurer of the food shelf.

• Hannaford Supermarkets mounted several creative campaigns. The 2011 Hannaford Helps Fight Hunger program, continuing through the end of the year, makes it easy for customers to give food and money to local food pantries and food shelves. It has three parts. “Hannaford Helping Hands” features boxes of grocery items most needed by food pantries, displayed at each supermarket, which customers may buy for $10 and have delivered to the local pantry or personally deliver them. “Register Donation” allows customers to donate money to their regional or state food banks in $5 increments at the register. Participants in these two programs receive books of coupons as thanks.

“Buy One, Give One” lets customers trigger donations to regional or state food banks by purchasing particular Hannaford brand products on specific days. Hannaford donates an item identical to the purchase and contributes additional cash in the name of stores with the highest level of giving.

Hannaford underwrote, along with Citizens Bank, the Foodbank’s “Nothing Can End Hunger” campaign by offering customers a chance to buy, for $2.99 each, empty cans with slots for collections from their friends and neighbors.

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From May 16 to June 6, Vermont Federal Credit Union held a book drive in each of its six branch locations. Books were donated to Soar Learning Center in St. Albans to support summer reading.

Hannaford celebrated the grand reopening of its Swanton store with a $1,000 gift to the Swanton Community Food Shelf.

In conjunction with Hannaford, Magic Hat Brewery and its parent organization, North American Breweries, held a winter promotion that made a donation to the Vermont Foodbank for every case of Magic Hat sold.

• Kindred Design Studio and Steve Redmond, its creative director and principal, decided to celebrate his banner year in 2010 with a 2011 initiative called “Will-Work-4-Food.” For the entire year, the studio has donated 1 percent of its revenue to the Foodbank. And current or new clients willing to do so can contribute 1 percent of their projects’ total costs, which Kindred matches.

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Ledyard National Bank partnered with Gateway Motors and Thrifty Car Rental to collect food and sundry items needed by Hurricane Irene victims. Vans used for collection were parked outside of four Ledyard offices, including the Vermont branch in Norwich. In September, employees and clients delivered and unloaded the full vans to the Upper Valley Haven in New Hampshire and the Woodstock Community Food Shelf.

• Food isn’t the only necessity provided by the Foodbank and food shelves around the state. Seventh Generation recognized that fact when it joined forces with the Foodbank to assemble 1,200 “green” cleaning kits filled with the natural and non-toxic clean-up supplies residents needed to safely put their homes and lives back together in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.

• In April, during Vermont Restaurant Week, over 80 participating eateries in Vermont offered special prix-fixe menus showing off their chefs’ talents. Meals were three-course, tasting style priced at $15, $25, or $35 per person. Vermont Federal Credit Union was the presenting sponsor, which, along with Seven Days, supported the project.

Send us the results of your clever fundraising ideas next year. •