Warm Hearts, Deep Pockets

Our annual guide to creative ways to make life better for somebody in need

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Each year for our December issue, we get to spend time reviewing the multitude of releases we received (and saved) over the last 12 months telling us about the myriad ways our readers have found to give back to their communities.

Seeing the varied and creative approaches some of these businesses take makes us wish we could sit in on the meetings where they’re discussed and developed. It must be as much fun to brainstorm and plan ways to give back as it is to participate in the activities. Here are a few of them, for inspiration. Copying ideas is encouraged.

warm-hearts-woodchu Twenty employees of Woodchuck Hard Cider set a company record picking more than 5,100 pounds of apples, which they bought and donated to the Vermont Foodbank.

Something of value from your business

This year, that creative bent was often aimed at doing something directly connected to a company’s enterprise. These kinds of activities can often be accomplished for a reasonable cost to the business but offer a tremendous benefit for the recipients.

Mount Snow has perfected the process. Last winter, through a pre-season terrain park setup on the learning hill, the resort raised $8,000 to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. Lift tickets were $10 a day and season pass holders could ride free, but many made cash donations anyway. Then at the end of last year, upwards of 60 children with life-threatening illnesses from across the country were treated to a day of freedom and adventure on the slopes, thanks to volunteers and staff of AbilityPLUS and Kids of Courage. And in June, in partnership with the American Cancer Society, the mountain hosted a triathlon to raise funds for the Windham County Relay for Life.

The DoubleTree by Hilton Burlington offers free lodging over the holidays for guests who are visiting nursing homes and hospital extended-care facilities.

warm-hearts-CVMC-Lo Heidi Pelletier, president of the CVMC Auxiliary, hangs a donor tag on the Love Light Tree.

For the sixth year in a row, dental professionals around the state provided care free of charge to an estimated 550 residents in need through the Vermont State Dental Society’s Free Dental Services Day in Vermont. The society does this in conjunction with Northeast Delta Dental and the United Way. What service might your company propose?

Does your company have expertise to offer? New England Federal Credit Union, for example, presented Economy of Me, a financial literacy seminar for students in grades 9 to 12. It was free and open to the public and featured speaker, author, and standup comic Colin Ryan. Another effective project involved collecting loose change and donations from friends, families, and communities in a Big Change Roundup, which generated $26,453.27 for Vermont Children’s Hospital.

Offer a prize

It’s hard to resist a contest. Take the one in Richmond, where participants who donated to the Smash4Sandy Hurricane Relief fund raiser, hosted by the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and the Vermont Foodbank, could throw a pumpkin out of the West Monitor Barn at various targets below to win prizes. A smashing time was had by all.

KeyBank and FreePressMedia sponsor the Build A Stronger Vermont grant-giving competition, which offers grants of $10,000 to $25,000 to three Vermont nonprofits. A panel of judges narrows the field to eight finalists, and then Vermont residents choose the final recipients by voting for their favorite plans online or with a ballot in the Burlington Free Press. The organization with the most votes receives a one-time $25,000 grant from the KeyBank Foundation, and the runners-up receive $15,000 and $10,000.

warm-hearts-vermont Employees of Vermont Mutual Insurance Group worked in the Vermont Foodbank’s warehouse, and a group of employees, including the chairman and CEO, Thomas Tierney, and William Catto, president and chief operating officer, presented the Foodbank with a $7,500 donation. The company also gave its employees Capital City Cash for the holidays to support Montpelier businesses.

University Mall annually seeks out local high school seniors who are deemed extraordinary examples of how individuals should give back through exemplary service. Then Finard Properties LLC, the mall’s owner, sponsors the Scholarship of Excellence, which gives five seniors $5,000 each toward their first year of college.

Berlin City Auto Group’s Drive for Education foundation, created by the employees, receives a portion of sales income from each vehicle sold at the group’s six dealerships throughout New England. School officials are asked to submit a short essay explaining how the school would use a donation of up to $3,500. Then a group of employees (Brand Ambassadors) evaluates the needs and selects the winners. Nine Vermont schools were beneficiaries this year.

Celebrate a milestone

In recognition of its 55th anniversary, PC Construction held a three-week voting competition in which the company’s employee-owners were asked to nominate 10 of their favorite nonprofits from the communities where PC does business. The pool was then turned over to the public in these communities to determine the five final winners. More than 10,000 votes were cast, and the company presented $5,500 to each of the winners. Two of them, the Lake Champlain Committee and the Committee on Temporary Shelter, were in Vermont.

warm-hearts-Bowl-a- At the third annual Champlain Valley Agency on Aging Bowl-a-Thon to Strike out Senior Hunger and Abuse, 20 teams raised almost $15,000 for the Meals on Wheels and care management programs. The theme was Escape to Paradise, a Caribbean Party. Home Instead Senior Care was the high-scoring team; Paw Print & Mail fielded three teams that raised over $3,500. Winning for Best Costume was Team Armistead Island (pictured), for its takeoff of Gilligan’s Island.

Feed the hungry

Food insecurity persists across the country as the economic recovery continues its slow course. The Vermont Foodbank and local food shelves around the state welcome contributions of cash and provisions.

And there are many ways to feed the need. For example, 30 volunteers descended on the fields of Jericho Settlers’ Farm in Richmond this fall and gleaned 5,000 pounds of beets for Foodbank recipients.

At Magic Hat’s Oktoberfeast, for a $5 entry fee, foodies could sample foods from 25 local vendors, buy produce from farmers, find craft beer offerings ­— draft and cask ­— and enjoy live music, all to benefit the Foodbank.

Seven Days organizes Vermont Restaurant Week, presented by the Vermont Federal Credit Union. This year, $6,600 was raised for the Foodbank from restaurant meals at 100 participating venues; texters to the phrase FOODNOW for $10 donations; the Sweet Start Smackdown dessert competition; a panel discussion by restaurateurs, farmers, and food experts; and Salsa Saturday, a homemade salsa competition at Red Square.

warm-hearts-CVMC-Ch Central Vermont Medical Center held its 12th annual Fall Foliage Charity Golf Classic in October. All proceeds benefit the cancer patient fund that helps those undergoing radiation therapy or chemotherapy at CVMC.

Follow your interests

A cause can be anything from a certain population (such as kids or the hungry or the disadvantaged or the ill) to a particular nonprofit or activity.

People’s United Bank’s Community Foundation gave a $100,000 grant to DonorsChoose.org, and 19 projects were funded, touching more than 1,000 students across the state.

Manchester Designer Outlets and the retail brands it represents sponsors the weekly $10,000 Open Welcome Stake Series during the Vermont Summer Festival, a six-week equestrian competition that is the richest sporting event, based on purse, in the state.

And if none of the above have sparked your interest, how about stealing an idea from Central Vermont Medical Center Auxiliary, which erects a Love Light Tree in the lobby. Visitors (and employees) are invited to illuminate a light in honor or memory of a loved one for a donation of $5. The light is lit and a card, displaying the names of the loved one and the donor, is tied to it with a ribbon. As does the Auxiliary, which uses the donations to fund many projects, you can choose a worthy project to fund.

Or finally, how about offering your employees paid time off to participate in worthy endeavors, such as knitting comfort shawls to soothe people at times of illness and stress at Woodridge Rehab and Nursing in Berlin? The CVMC Auxiliary is still looking for knitters to contribute work.