Associated Grocers of New England staff volunteer at Concord’s Friendly Kitchen on a Saturday morning. (Photo by Cheryl Senter.)

Associated Grocers of New England staff volunteer at Concord’s Friendly Kitchen on a Saturday morning. (Photo by Cheryl Senter.)

Sleeves-rolled-up giving experience

Associated Grocers of New England & AG Supermarkets use a donor-advised fund to give back to the communities where they do business

The crew from Associated Grocers of New England shows up at Concord’s Friendly Kitchen on a Saturday morning. They bring the ingredients for breakfast at the soup kitchen. They start the coffee, slice potatoes for home fries, and stack layers of sausage, egg and cheese onto croissants. The crew serves the hungry folks who line up, and they clean the kitchen before they go.

But serving meals at the soup kitchen is just one way that these folks give to their communities.

In the same way that they pull on food service gloves and flip sausages and fry potatoes, these folks want to be directly involved in their charitable giving.

The “Employees of AG of New England & AG Supermarkets” donor-advised fund at the Charitable Foundation allows them a sleeves-rolled-up giving experience.

Company employees contribute to the fund – primarily via payroll deductions starting at $1 a week – and the company kicks in an additional twenty-five percent on every dollar.

They call the program Community Connection – and raise between $70,000 and $80,000 each year. An employee committee – made up of everybody from vice presidents to administrative assistants – recommends grants that send those dollars right back out into the communities. The company picks up the administrative fee so that 100 percent of employee contributions go directly to nonprofits. More than half of the company’s 700 employees participate.

More than $800,000 has been distributed from the fund since 2004.

“It makes me feel very proud,” said Cindy Caldwell, Vice President of Finance for Associated Grocers of New England. “There is something about the whole sense of giving back to community. It really tugs at your heart.”

 

“There is something about the whole sense of giving back to community. It really tugs at your heart.”
- Cindy Caldwell, vice president of finance for Associated Grocers of New England
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Hungry kids have been fed. Sick people have gotten medication and help from visiting nurses. Poor kids have gotten Christmas presents. Veterans have received critical services. Elders and disabled folks have gotten meals-on-wheels. A children’s home got a new furnace. Formerly homeless families have gotten transitional housing and support.

And much more.

The Foundation administers the fund, distributing recommended grants to nonprofits – freeing the committee to focus on giving decisions. Foundation staff is available to discuss giving strategies with the group, and vets nonprofits to ensure that grants are going to qualified organizations. The committee primarily recommends grants “for general support” – which nonprofits desperately need as they face diminished revenue streams from public sources.

All AG & AG Supermarkets employees get a list of grants that shows exactly where their dollars went.

“It was just sort a natural synergy that worked,” Caldwell said. The Charitable Foundation, she said, “had the setup and had everything structured. We didn’t have to set up our own foundation to do it. It was just easier. It works very smoothly.”

AG & AG Supermarkets also do corporate fund-raisers and donations to a variety of community organizations – and gives AG of New England non-union employees 24 hours of paid time to volunteer each year.

Caldwell sees the company’s giving and volunteering as part of its mission and integration into the communities where it does business. When the company relocated to Pembroke, she said, “we didn’t want to impose on the community, we wanted to be welcomed.”

The company’s giving was part of what attracted Nancy Pierce, a bookkeeping manager, to her job. “It was very important when I came here to see they had this community connection,” Pierce said.

The company’s generosity is a point of pride – and part of its identity.

“It’s not just a big corporation that’s taking in employees and sending product out on the road,” Pierce said. “They really do care about their employees and the communities they live in.”