Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Local Grocery Stores: Whole Foods

In my posting on Monday, I included a map that showed many of the grocery stores in Chicago, in relation to poverty, "failing schools," known tutor/mentor programs, and highways.

I want to break down that map into the 6 individual maps of individual chains - some national, some local - over the next week or so, and explore ways in which businesses (not just grocer stores) that interact closely with the community can use (or are using) their strengths to support tutoring and mentoring-to-career programs...

(The same "mentoring programs" that politicians are calling for in the wake of the Derrion Albert murder... programs like Cabrini Connections and over 240 known others in the area that show promise in helping kids choose paths toward higher education and career, versus the street, perpetual poverty, and occasionally crime.)

The first chain I chose to extract from my all-inclusive map is Whole Foods:

(Click on map to see higher-resolution version)

While my map shows that Whole Foods only has a handful of Chicago-area locations (none of which are in high-poverty neighborhoods, and none of which operate south of the Loop), Whole Foods still places an emphasis on helping those who deal with the challenges of poverty, embodying what they call "Community Citizenship." From their website:

Community Citizenship: We recognize our responsibility to be active participants in our local communities. We give a minimum of 5% of our profits every year to a wide variety of community and non-profit organizations.

In another page from their corporate site, they give more detail:

...several times a year, our stores hold community giving days (otherwise known as “5% Days”) where five percent of that day’s net sales are donated to a local nonprofit or educational organization. The groups that benefit from these 5% Days are as varied as the communities themselves.

In other words, Whole Foods is able to donate a small portion of their sales, from time to time, to non-profits.

This is huge. It helps keep non profits alive to fight another day. (Because, make no mistake - regardless of what you've heard - non profits have overhead, staffs, and expenses like rent. They rely exclusively on grants and donations.)

But a small fundraiser like this does more than just pay rent. There are other less obvious benefits.

Imagine this: A customer from Lakeview who commutes downtown every day and never has a need (or desire) to go into high-poverty neighborhoods is buying some produce after work. In the past this customer has thought while watching the news and seeing stories related to crime or violence or the Chicago Public Schools, that "If there was only something I can do"...

During checkout, the customer is introduced to Tutor/Mentor Connection, or other student-advocacy causes - programs they likely didn't know about before, but might now want to volunteer to assist a couple hours each week, or make a small donation (of money or talent or supplies).

Moreover, this simple fundraiser just planted a seed. Perhaps this customer is still not ready to take action. But perhaps while watching the news the following week and hearing a politician discuss "mentoring" as a solution to crime, suddenly this concept has a recognizable face and name for this Chicago resident... This is taste-making or "buzz" creation... this helps focus discussion, momentum, and action toward solutions to problems that affect our city and our country.

But again, the most immediate thing a cause-mined business like Whole Foods that operates in more affluent neighborhoods can do to help a non profit like Tutor/Mentor Connection, is to raise money that helps non profits pay rent.

Whether this involves a corporate donation, a percentage of sales, or leading customers who want to make a contribution to the cause, this is the position of strength in the war against poverty for a company like Whole Foods.

And yes, some of Whole Foods' charity HAS come our way.

Whole Foods has sponsored Tutor/Mentor Connection, and has helped us raise over $5000 this year alone, through their One Dime at a Time program, whereby "Whole Foods Market gives 10 cents per bag to customers who re-use their own shopping bags for their purchased groceries. This program reduces our impact on the environment and now supports local non profit groups. Customers will have the choice to accept their cash refund, or donate the cash back to the store’s chosen non profit organization. "

So to summarize: Here we have an example of a store whose main clientele are not from high-poverty regions, yet understand their particular strength in the war on poverty... raising visibility and money that keeps non profits alive.

Come back later this week and I'll focus on a new chain with a new set of strengths. See, while some businesses are in positions to generate corporate or sizable financial support, some have the power to interact locally with parents and community leaders, from locations in the high-poverty neighborhoods themselves.

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