2013: FRED MEYER, STORE TO DOOR AND THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY
FRED MEYER donates $4 million and more than four million pounds of food annually. But for 85-year-old Portlander Jean Brooks, the homegrown grocery chain’s commitment to its community begins and ends with the fact that she can buy her favorite sugar snap cookies without hobbling to the store. “I have leg problems, and it’s hard to get out,” Brooks says, “so I really depend on them.”
For nearly a quarter century, the West Burnside Fred Meyer has been the unofficial headquarters of Portland nonprofit Store to Door. Every week, a wave of volunteers rolls through the grocery gathering blue bins of food to deliver to people with disabilities and vulnerable seniors like Brooks. The retailer reserves checkers and baggers for the operation, and donates around $30,000 yearly.
“We can’t tell them what to volunteer for: it’s whatever makes an employee passionate,” says Fred Meyer Manager of Community Affairs Melinda Merrill. But her office can give encouragement in the form of $200 in seed money to every employee group that mounts a volunteer effort. Store to Door is just one of the partnerships to which the company’s 33,000-person workforce dedicates tens of thousands of unpaid hours every year. The projects range from small, like cleaning up local parks, to one of the company’s biggest: the donation of $2.3 million since 1985 to the American Cancer Society. Nearly half of that sum has been raised from small-scale Relay for Life walks instigated by 250 separate teams of employees across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska.
Forbes magazine dubbed Fred Meyer’s parent corporation, Kroger, America’s “most generous” company in 2011. But Merrill says that the nearly century-old retailer’s mind-set came from the original Fred G. Meyer, a crack businessman who was also known for donating time and money to local nonprofits. “This company grew up in Portland and shares its values,” she says. “You don’t [volunteer] to make yourself look good. You do it to keep employees, to keep customers, and to keep your community strong.”
2012: BOORA ARCHITECTS FOR LITERARY ARTS
Portland’s 30-year-old Literary Arts may qualify as the city’s oldest foster child. For its first 29 years the nonprofit—which runs the Oregon Book Awards and other programs—didn’t have a home of its own, seeking shelter instead inside other organizations’ offices. Most recently, it was housed in the super-sleek Wieden & Kennedy building. The space had its perks: it was cheap, and it was chic. But in 2011, Dan Wieden informed the nonprofit that he needed the space to expand his business. Enter Boora Architects’ John Meadows, who sat on Literary Arts’ board and wanted to help give the nonprofit a home, believing such a space could further its mission to support writers and engage readers. Over the course of five months, Boora donated some 400 hours and more than $44,000 in labor and materials costs to turn a vacant 2,600-square-foot concrete box with plywood walls on SW Washington Street into an airy den of creativity that’s as accessible as it is changeable. With a couple of quick adjustments, the conference room becomes a lecture-hall-in-miniature for up to 65 people. Touring writers have used the space to celebrate book releases, and a catering kitchen means donor parties no longer have to squeeze into a hotel conference room. Budget limitations nixed the floor-to-ceiling windows, but there is one element Literary Arts executive director Andrew Proctor refused to give up. On each side of the cantaloupe-colored walls are two rolling ladders for reaching books on high shelves, an archetypal element signifying immediately that this is home, sweet home for, as Proctor says, “confirmed book nerds.”
2011: Wieden & Kennedy
When the creative forces responsible for Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign and the Old Spice viral video hits featuring Isaiah Mustafa turned their collective brain power toward the nonprofit world last spring, the results were, not surprisingly, pretty spectacular—$1.4 million in donations in a single night kind of spectacular. Led by account director Eric Gabrielson and creative directors Danielle Flagg and Tyler Whisnand (who typically work on Nike and Target accounts, among others), the Wieden & Kennedy team turned a dull Harvard Business School of Oregon report about the sevenfold return on investment for Friends of the Children into a clever, animated video about “Friendonomics.” The video was a cornerstone of the annual fundraising event for Friends of the Children, a local group that pairs professional mentors with vulnerable Oregon kids from kindergarten through high school, and is just one of the many projects to which Wieden & Kennedy has given its talent, gratis, over the past decade. “They treat us like a client and give us just as much respect as they would Coca-Cola or Chrysler,” says Megan Lewis, director of development and marketing at Friends of the Children. “When they have a creative idea, they execute it without any limitations.” For the Friendonomics project, the W&K team donated hundreds of hours—most of them after hours and on weekends—and relied on its stable of talented producers and stylists such as animator David Potter, whose credits include the documentary Deep Green and several projects for Coke, Nike, and Dodge. “That’s the spirit of this place,” says Dan Wieden, cofounder and CEO. “You give back whenever you have the opportunity. We feel like citizens who have a responsibility to create good, meaningful communication. It’s a real honor to do work with organizations like this one.”
2010: RHONDA MEADOWS of Bridge Meadows
You’ve probably heard this African proverb, made famous by Hillary Clinton: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Rhonda Meadows, 52, has worked 6,000 volunteer hours, helped raise $11.5 million, and convinced city leaders to give her land, all to build such a village: the nonprofit Bridge Meadows. Frustrated with Oregon’s current foster-care system, Meadows modeled this revolutionary planned community after a similar program in rural Illinois. It will feature intergenerational neighborhoods with resources and reduced-rent homes for families who adopt foster children, as well as seniors who function as surrogate grandparents. The families receive the support that typically disappears after adopting a foster child, and the seniors gain a renewed sense of purpose. But, more important, some of Oregon’s 13,000 foster children will finally find peace and a sense of place. “The word ‘foster’ means to care for, cherish, and promote growth,” Meadows says, “but that’s not what’s happening when a child is moved from house to house.” A few years ago at Christmas, when the ambitious project was facing major setbacks, each member of Meadows’s family wrote down three personal wishes and buried them—one year later, they dug them up. “I, of course, made a wish for Bridge Meadows to happen,” Meadows says, “but so had my husband and each of my three girls!” In April, when Bridge Meadows opens in Portsmouth, Meadows will finally get her wish.
2008: David Murray of Convergence Networks, for Big Brothers/Big Sisters
When you think of the connection between a child and his Big Brother or Big Sister volunteer, you might not think of the Internet. David Murray is someone who understands the importance of connections not just between fiber-optic cables but also between people. This is part of the reason he and his eight-year-old Portland-based IT firm, Convergence Networks, donated more than $12,000 worth of consulting time to update the infrastructure at the local Big Brothers Big Sisters headquarters—a major contribution to volunteer operations.
“Before, we were all on different versions of Microsoft Word, [and] none of us could access our e-mail or our servers remotely,” says Lynn Thompson, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest. “We’ve learned over the years that to retain prospective volunteers, we have to be able to get back to them within 24 hours and get them in for an interview within five days. Without the proper infrastructure in place to respond quickly, we would miss our chance at another volunteer.”