Warm Hearts, Deep Pockets

There’s no end of inventiveness when it comes to fund-raising

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

wh_runnersThe Northern Vermont 5K run/walk in June at the Champlain Valley Expo culminated Girls on the Run, Vermont’s 10-week after-school empowerment program for girls in grades three through eight. It has inspired more than 40,000 Vermont girls since its inception in 1999 to be joyful, healthy, and confident.

Creativity in ways of giving knows no boundaries. Case in point is the tree slice from a giant elm tree that Vermont Tree Goods donated to an affordable housing community for seniors. (See the photo on page 16.)

Even ideas that might seem ordinary take on new meaning with just a simple tweak. For example, Capstone Community Action, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, and BROC Community Action conduct a program called Wheels for Warmth, which has collected over 40,000 donated tires, recycled 25,000, sold 15,000 safe tires, and raised over $350,000 to help those hardest hit by winter temperatures, particularly homes with children and seniors. Local businesses like Village Grocery in Waitsfield, Dick Mazza’s General Store in Colchester, Bigras Auto & Tire in Barre, and Vianor Tire stores in several locations act as drop-off places. Unsafe tires are recycled at $4 per tire, and usable ones are sold at affordable prices.

wh_helmetThe University of Vermont Health Network–Central Vermont Medical Center, in conjunction with Green Mountain Family Practice, sponsors Spring Into Sports, a free event in Northfield open to the public. It offers free bike helmets for up to 50 children ages 5 through 12. Co-sponsored by Bicycle Express Racing, whose team ensures proper size and fit, the event includes bike fittings, a bike rodeo, and a group bike ride along local trails.

Releasing staff to volunteer at nonprofits such as the local animal shelter is a tried and true way to give back to the community. One donation that intrigued us was Rutland Regional Medical Center’s giving of a two-acre parcel of land on its grounds for the creation of a dog park, which opened this year.

If you don’t have a spare two acres, there are other creative ways animal lovers can participate. Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum, for example, hosts an annual Wonderpaws Festival & Paw Parade in downtown Rutland presented by Pet Gear and media sponsor The Mountain Times. In addition to the parade are demonstrations, a scavenger hunt, crafts, an obstacle course, hay maze, activities, and plenty of photo ops and food. It’s free and open to the public, but all dogs must be registered to participate: $10 per dog includes presence in the parade, a token of appreciation, entry to win a mystery prize, and a chance to win a Judges’ Choice award in silly categories like Best Pet/Owner Look-Alike, Most Entertaining, Wildest Wag, among others.

wh_camp_takumtaIn October, volunteers and members and friends of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont and Rebuilding Together put the finishing touches on Camp Ta-Kum-Ta’s pool house in South Hero.

Wonderfeet also sponsors and benefits from Forest Fantasy, an October event featuring creativity and play with Forest Folk at Camp Betsey Cox in Pittsford. There are whimsical activities, a fantasy barbeque, fairy and troll crafts, story time, and dancing for the whole family.

How about tying your company’s anniversary to an event? Cope & Associates sponsored a benefit concert to celebrate 25 years in business. An anniversary concert is a tradition nurtured by the company’s founder, Paula Cope, so it made sense. Three bands performed, and food and beverages, pumpkins, and ice cream were available for purchase. The beneficiary was the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps.

Or find a rare excuse to dress up in Vermont for Mercy Connections’ annual Jazz Jam. At Champlain College in August, guests danced to the sounds of 15 exceptional local jazz musical luminaries like Jodi Albright, Paul Asbell, Jenni Johnson & the Junketeers, and George Voland. Light hors d’oeuvres were served along with a cash bar and silent auction. Comcast was the leadership level sponsor.

wh_pursesAn evening of purses, hors d’oeuvres, and cocktails benefiting the Humane Society of Chittenden County, Purrrses for Paws features live and silent auctions offering new and like-new purses, plus many on sale. The 2018 event will be on February 8 at Burlington International Airport.

A different kind of dress-up is encouraged for the annual Blue Jean Ball to benefit the Franklin County Home Health Agency. Attendees are invited to kick up their heels and dress up in their best denim and cowboy boots. $55 tickets cover a buffet, dancing to DJ Bobby Cee, and silent and live auctions. Proceeds help cover the organization’s $500,000-plus charity and uncompensated care each year.

We loved the idea of supporting the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s annual Challenge Race, now going for 21 years. Boats rowed by teams of four to six people are built at the museum by students from Addison County high schools. The youth boat-building program, Champlain Longboats, has constructed 21 wooden boats, many of which take part in the race. Or be a solo participant, and race your own version of a muscle-powered boat, from kayaks to surf-skis. Everybody gathers for a potluck picnic afterward.

wh_treegoodsJohn Monks (left), founder of Vermont Tree Goods in Bristol, and woodworkers Natt Harkins and Ben Leleiris load an American elm slice into a car for its journey to Milton to hang in the lobby of Elm Place, an affordable housing community for seniors developed by Cathedral Square. The slice came from a storied tree in Richmond that succumbed to disease and was removed by the town in 2014. Vermont Tree Goods was the successful bidder for a 10-foot piece of the 50-inch diameter trunk, which it used to make two conference tables for Richmond’s town hall and other pieces of furniture, and donated the slice to Elm Place.

Food insecurity is an ongoing concern in our state. More than 40,000 Vermont seniors are living in or near poverty and over 20,000 are threatened by hunger. As the largest provider of Meals on Wheels in the state, Age Well, which oversees more than 60 meal routes in northwestern Vermont, participates in the annual month-long March for Meals to raise awareness and funds for seniors experiencing hunger, isolation, and loss of independence.

Consider volunteering to pick up and deliver meals to a senior’s home. Volunteers are especially needed in Swanton/Highgate, Milton, and Vergennes. Or buy lunch for an aging Vermonter: Just $25 will provide a nutritious meal and safety check for a whole week. And if you really want to make a positive impact? Have your business sponsor a Meals on Wheels route.

Phoenix Books announced last December that it was embarking on a year-long partnership with Vermont Foodbank by matching customer donations, up to $5,000, to the Foodbank between Thanksgiving and December 24. The year-long partnership aimed to raise at least $25,000 through a series of matching events in 2017.

And finally, one of the most creative, yet simple programs we found — and one that gave us a chuckle — is the Great Diaper Drive, Dee Physical Therapy’s annual event launched 10 years ago to help families in need. Dee PT locations in South Burlington, Shelburne, and Hinesburg collect diapers to give to the Committee on Temporary Shelter. Over the years, more than 260,000 diapers for COTS families have been collected. 2017’s event has a goal of 80,000 diapers. Note: Donations are being accepted this year through December 18. •