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The Heart of a Grocer

Community Involvement is not just part of the job for grocers across this country. It is the heart and soul of what they do. From handing out emergency supplies after a devastating explosion, to fundraising for a cause that hits home, grocers are willing to lend a hand. Read on to hear the stories of this year's 10 Canadian Grocer Community Service Award finalists as chosen by our judging panel.

Chilliwack PriceSmart Foods | Chilliwack, B.C.

Chilliwack PriceSmart Foods has fundraised for the B.C. Children’s Hospital since 1993 when the store manager at the time had a sick child in need. Support and caring have always been a part of the culture, says current store manager Cal Siemens, and this year the store raised $25,000 through a staggering number of annual events, including a golf tournament, a hockey game that pits local police against employees, a vintage car show and the Chilliwack Flight Fest, where the store adds to the pot through raffles, hotdog, pop and chip sales, pancake breakfasts and spins of the wheel of fortune. “ The people here really embrace the northern B.C. culture and really get involved with people’s lives, trying to make them better,” says Siemens.  The store gets a handful of requests every week from people in need. “I don’t think I’ve ever said no,” he says. Eve Lazarus

Save-on Foods | Prince George, B.C.

When an explosion ripped through the Lakeland Mills sawmill in April, the blast was felt throughout Prince George.  That night, store employees handed out supplies to those who had rushed to help co-workers and friends at the mill. But there was no venue where people could make donations, says Dave Blackmore, store manager. The four Save-on Foods in town became that venue.  The next day they launched the “Round Up” campaign, asking customers to round up their grocery bills to the next dollar. They raised more than $27,000 for the foundation to support the Lakeland Mill’s  fire relief fund. The stores also look for ways to support the community year-round. Take manager Brian Gandy’s staff , who rallied all four stores to help the Spruce Kings, a local hockey team struggling to survive with sagging attendance.  The store held three events to  fill the arena and raise money: a shoot-to-win contest with a Dodge pick-up as a prize; a “Make Hunger Disappear” night; and a before-game tailgate party.  They raised $3,000 for the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation and sold out a Spruce Kings hockey game–the  first time in 20 years! E.L.

Provigo Sherbrooke King | Sherbrooke, Que.

Last year, when a customer asked Stéphane Tremblay to be Sherbrooke’s honorary president of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Campaign, he didn’t hesitate for a second. It was a cause close to his heart, as his father was in remission after prostate cancer. During the campaign, his father even helped sell daffodils for four days, while store employees sold more than 50 per cent of daffodil lapel pins in the region, making it one of the province’s few areas to surpass its initial fundraising goal of $105,000 by a few hundred dollars.

That’s not all. Every Christmas, Tremblay’s store collects money for  fire fighters to distribute toys to underprivileged kids. And last year, $2,400 was collected for the drive by an employee who was awaiting a kidney transplant. Tremblay has also created the Provigo Stéphane Tremblay scholarship that helps a disadvantaged child with costs at a local elementary school specializing in music. “When you get involved for the right reason, you touch people and it touches you as well,” Tremblay says. Danny Kucharsky

Freson Brothers | Alberta

Freson Brothers’ 15 stores are spread around rural Alberta. So when several years ago they decided to choose a charity to all get behind, the Stars Foundation seemed a great  fit. Stars, which provides emergency transport for the critically ill and injured, has huge operating costs. “We don’t have big hospitals, so Stars is very close to our hearts,” says Mandi Fawcett, Freson’s advertising services manager. “Most people know of somebody who has had their life saved by Stars.”

This year, Freson’s held a three-week fundraising campaign called “Life Can Change!” It launched on the front page of the Valentine’s week  yer and then in every  yer during the campaign. Posters that read “$4 can change your life,” were displayed in store, and for $4, customers purchased a name plate. The customer’s name or name of a friend or family member, was written on the plate and posted in the store. As a result, Freson raised $35,000 for Stars. E.L.

Robinson’s Independent Grocer | Huntsville, Ont.

By now, townsfolk are used to seeing a big transport trailer full of donated yard sale items parked at Robinson’s Independent Grocer. For  five years, the community has dropped off everything from candlestick holders to garden furniture for the store’s annual “Second Chance” charity sale. After three days of collecting, the goods are unloaded from the trailer into the garden centre where starff volunteers and members of the community do the merchandising and selling. About $55,000 has been raised over  five years with the take from the last three years going to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Transportation Fund to help area residents get to cancer treatment centres. Adding to the poignancy of the cause, last year  five staff shaved their heads at the event to honour a family member with cancer. “Cancer affects everyone and our Second Chance sale has become a community event,” says Maggie Rittenhouse, community events and store events co-ordinator. Sonya Felix

Thrifty Foods Coquitlam |Coquitlam, B.C.

When long-term bakery employee Paula Marconato’s 12-year-old son, Marko, was recently diagnosed with bone cancer, Liam Sobey, store manager, and his team jumped into action.  They held a week-long fundraiser to raise $10,000 for B.C. Children’s Hospital. Sobey had read about Edmonton grocery Tony Klyne who camped on his store’s roof to raise money (his Save-On store won a Canadian Grocer Community Service Award last year for it) and thought it was a great idea. Instead of the roof, he pitched a tent at the store entrance, chatting to customers during the day and helping to manage the other fundraising initiatives, which included two workout bikes ridden between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., by staff and locals to drive campaign awareness, and a chicken-wing eating competition.  The store raised $17, 200, generating huge support from media and the community. “One thing that made our event so successful was that we included a lot of people and there was a huge amount of engagement from the staff,” Sobey says. E.L.

Colemans Food Centre | Stephenville, N.L.

Store manager Mondella Stacey already has a reputation for supporting healthy eating among kids. But she is also committed to serving nutritious food to older and less fortunate individuals in her community. For nine years, Stacey has helped the local Community Education Network put on its Community Café, a monthly soup and sandwich lunch held at the local Lions Club for up to 100 people. Stacey personally makes sandwiches at home and donates up to $75 worth of yogurt, fruit and crackers from the store. Last May, her Colemans store sponsored the whole meal, donated  owers and sent sta to help. She told her manager- trainee, who accompanied her to the event, that if he wants to run a business, he has to do it with compassion.
“It makes me feel good to help others and we have a lot of fun raising the money to do this every year,” Stacey says. S.F.

Morello’s Your Independent Grocer | Peterborough, Ont.

The May long weekend is a hectic time at most grocery stores, but even more so at Morello’s Your Independent Grocer. For the past 11 years, owner Dave Morello has spearheaded a massive fundraising event where silent auctions, barbecues, car washes and bake sales are held simultaneously over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  The store’s unionized employees and union members from the same local volunteer to man the tents and tables set up under a covered area at the front of the store. Kim Morello, Dave’s wife and the store’s co-owner, credits her husband for keeping everyone on the right page. The store has raised $166,000 for the Leukemia Foundation over the years and the city has proclaimed the May long weekend Leukemia Awareness week.  The rest of the year, Morello and his staff  find other causes to support, such as raising money for a shelter for street kids. S.F.

Loblaw’s 60 Carleton | Toronto

Less than a year since opening the 85,000-sq.-ft Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, the store has already made a charitable impact on the downtown neighbourhood surrounding the former hockey shrine. “We really try to do our best to reach out to the community,” says store manager, Marcello Piane. Involvement ranges from sponsoring a nearby ballet school and contributing $100 a week to support a local school’s lunch and snack program, to giving $75,000 to help rebuild the Kiwanis boys and Girls Club down the street. And with the heart of Toronto’s gay community near the store, the store has also become a big supporter of the annual Pride Toronto, and helps the Foundation for People with AIDS. The store is never short of causes to support and gets dozens of requests each week. “Our customers say we are doing a great job,” says Piane. “By getting involved in the community we know a lot of our customers by name—even in teh short period of time we’ve been open.” S.F.

Sobeys Vaughan Harvey | Moncton, N.B.

Lots of stores encourage food bank donations but the staff at Sobeys Vaughan Harvey store really ramped up enthusiasm last November when they staged a  flash mob dancing to the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get it Started to launch their Fill the Food Bank, Fuel the Community fundraiser. Over three weeks, employees and customers raised $19,000 in food and funds to support food banks, making the location the top fundraising Sobeys store in Atlantic Canada. “Giving back to the community is our whole culture,” says manager, Kevin Gallant.  The store also supports school breakfast programs, a mobile soup kitchen and a turkey drive, while employees participate in all kinds of charitable walks, runs and rides. “All these activities are awesome for store morale–it’s a lot of fun,” says Gallant. “We have a reputation for helping people and our customer engagement score is the highest in the area.”S.F

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