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FRAMINGHAM, Mass. -- Generosity is a familiar term for many convenience store chains. As Convenience Store News' own Spirit Awards for Community Outreach program shows every year, the c-store industry knows how important helping the community can be. But good intentions don't always lead to effective results, especially without an organized program for helping.
That's why Cumberland Farms set itself apart from the crowd by formalizing its corporate giving program several years ago. Since then, the Framingham, Mass.-based chain has donated millions of dollars in cash and products to charitable causes.
These days, the program is "primarily focused on youth, from teenagers down to babies, in particular looking at education and health and activities that help development," Cumberland Farms’ Vice President Gwen Forman told CSNews Online, noting that many of the company's employees, as well as its customers, are young. "That's a good fit with our business."
The giving program functions on both the corporate and local levels, but there's one thing that remains consistent. "It's really about the betterment of young people," said Forman.
The most obvious example is Cumberland Farms' Believe and Achieve scholarship program, the oldest of the company's formalized charitable programs, which awards more than $100,000 annually to college-bound teenagers. The program is widespread across the chain's entire market; any teenager within 30 miles of a Cumberland Farms store can apply.
This year, Cumberland Farms plans to offer 130 scholarships worth $1,000 each. Students with at least a 3.0 grade point average who demonstrate need and are applying to an accredited school can apply -- as "hundreds and hundreds" do each year.
"We look at needs and we look at academic performance, their leadership activities," said Forman. Demonstration of leadership, work experience and participation in charitable projects are among the criteria for winning a scholarship.
While the Believe and Achieve program gives a boost to young adults preparing to leave the nest, Cumberland Farms' local fundraising events help out closer to home. Every time a newly remodeled store reopens, the company selects a local cause with input from the store’s manager. For a month after the opening, Cumberland Farms donates a portion of drinks sold, such as 20 cents from each cup of coffee or Chill Zone beverage, to that cause.
"We want to establish our relationship with that community by giving back," Forman explained.
The chain partners with approximately 50 organizations each year for the fundraisers. Past beneficiaries of the local fundraising events include the Abraham Wing School Student Government in Glens Falls, N.Y., which was working to improve outdoor education programs and updating the school’s playground; the Halifax Youth and Recreation Department of Halifax, Mass., which received funds to help defray program costs for youth at the recreation department; and the Provincetown Recreation Department of Provincetown, Mass., which was seeking to update its local playgrounds.
The organizations vary in scope and purpose, but they're all focused on the community, stated Forman. "Research goes into this to make sure it's a good fit," she said. And because the benefiting organizations tend to be smaller, their need is greater.
"We're not the 50th donor in line to the cause," Forman said, noting that a few thousand dollars can make a big difference for them. And that's fine with Cumberland Farms. "We want to be viewed as a strong community partner, not this nameless, faceless 600-store chain."
Cumberland Farms' third formal giving program, the Pediatric Care Campaign, travels through seven states month by month. Similar to the local fundraisers, a designated partner hospital receives a percentage of sales from a certain dispensed beverage within the region. The campaign kicked off in February by raising money in Vermont and New Hampshire stores for the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock; this month, the chain is donating five cents of every Chill Zone beverage sold in Connecticut and southwestern Massachusetts to the Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
The company looks for reputable hospitals to partner with in compatible geographic areas. "We look at the footprint of their service area to find a match with ours," said Forman.
Following the donation period, Cumberland Farms presents each hospital with a check for the amount raised. "It's an incredible experience," she added.
The Pediatric Care Campaign is expected to be a mainstay -- and it's possible new giving initiatives will join it. While no decisions have been made, various new ideas have been proposed. One thing is for certain, though: whatever specific programs make it to active stages, Cumberland Farms plans to continue to grow its connection with communities as it grows its business.