Warm Hearts, Deep Pockets

Participation makes small contributions large

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

cvmc_food_shelf1216Clarice Cutler, a staff member at the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (left), with Andrea Hazuda and Mike Kennedy, members of the UVM Health Network–Central Vermont Medical Center Health Care Share team, during the Vermont Foodbank’s Veggie VanGo mobile food pantry.

Each year, in anticipation of this annual December story, we save up the hundreds of releases we receive from Vermont businesses announcing the endless ways they have found to support the communities they serve. The incomparable creativity behind these activities occasionally thrills us and sometimes makes us giggle, but we are always impressed.

While we can’t possibly write about all of them, we read them all hoping to be inspired and thus to inspire you, our reader.

Chances are good that your business is one that opens its pockets in some way to reach out to those in lesser circumstances. We hope so. A positive side effect is that it’s good for the company, too. But if you don’t have the resources to create your own project, we urge you and your colleagues to participate in the programs and events conducted or sponsored by other businesses.

vt-history-expo-heritage1216Youngsters led heritage-breed animals in parades during the Vermont Historical Society’s Vermont History Expo in Tunbridge. Partnering sponsors were the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, Fox local 44 (WFFF), ABC Local 22 (WVNY), Vermont Public Radio, and Vermont Business Magazine.

Take financial institutions, a segment of the business world sometimes maligned in recent years, but one that unfailingly has sought avenues for donating. Local institutions are particularly dedicated. And occasionally, even if you don’t bank at a particular institution, you can still contribute to its good works.

For example, to participate in the annual Feed A Family Holiday Food Drive at New England Federal Credit Union, credit union members (or non-members) can drop off food contributions through December 9 this year.

shelburne-vineyard1216Shelburne Vineyard’s annual Wine and Food Festival and Food Shelf Benefit draws between 500 and 700 people a year, who bring donations of non-perishable food items to stock the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf’s larder and raise funds for holiday meals. Attendees’ contributions are in lieu of paying to taste the samples of wine and foods from vendors.

Earlier this year, members contributed to NEFCU’s annual Big Change Roundup by dropping change into canisters at its branches, generating a $27,240 contribution to The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital. We’ll bet next year, you could collect change from your book group or your fly-fishing buddies and drop it off at a branch office.

Merchants was another bank whose press releases crossed our desk this year. Its challenge grant last December to benefit the WARMTH program, which helps offset home heating bills for those at risk, matched, dollar-for-dollar, up to $40,000. The total, coupled with the match, was $107,000. Nothing like having your contribution doubled.

merchants-festival-of-fools1216Geoffrey Hesslink (left), president and CEO of Merchants Bank, and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger launched the Festival of Fools celebration in Burlington by leading the parade down Church Street. Merchants, the presenting sponsor, donated $5,000 to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf.

TD Bank mounted a Bring Change campaign in which people were invited to enter a coin-counting event and fundraiser. The bank matched up to $2,000 in coins counted and donated the total to the Montpelier Food Pantry.

This year, Northfield Savings Bank’s Flying Pig Footrace supported Girls on the Run. For every registered runner, the bank donated $5, up to a maximum of $3,000. That’s 600 runners! Were you one?

grinch-at-phoenix-books1216The Grinch wasn’t the only one whose heart grew three sizes when Phoenix Books matched the cash value of food donations from community members.

And the bank’s St. Patty’s Day Feast Against Famine each March has become the largest annual fundraiser for the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. It was created in 2006 by a group of NSB employees who wanted to help feed fellow Vermonters, and features a dinner, live music, and a silent auction of items donated by Vermont businesses.

That brings up one of the easiest ways for a business to give back to the community that supports it. A generous group of Vermont nonprofits host celebrations that feature dinners, music, and silent auctions. It doesn’t matter what your business or talent is: You can participate by contributing a gift certificate or a basket of product or a hand-crafted item if you’re talented.

special-olympics1216In 2016, 1,200 brave souls like these costumed superheroes jumped into Vermont’s icy lakes and raised a record-breaking $460,000 for Special Olympics Vermont.

Chances are good that an organization you find worthy — it might be one related to food (think food shelf or Restaurant Week) or entertainment (think Vermont Stage or the Flynn Center) or housing (think Champlain Housing Trust or COTS) — any one of a long list, is seeking donations beyond writing a check or event sponsorship.

So show up. Because, to misquote Woody Allen: Participation is half the battle.