Florence Bank Reaches $1.05 Million Mark in Customers’ Choice Community Grant Giving

 In Client Press Releases

Photo credit Evan Fogarty. Niki Lankowski and Michael Skillicorn of Grow Food Northampton celebrate the receipt of their Customers’ Choice Community Grant.

$100,000 awarded on March 21 will support libraries, schools, police and fire departments, hospitals and hospices, and other organizations that benefit people of all ages, as well as animals and the environment.

FLORENCE—Florence Bank recently presented $100,000 in awards ranging from $500 to $5,000 to 57 area nonprofits through its 16th annual Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program during an event at the Garden House at Look Memorial Park. The funds will support libraries, schools, police, fire departments, hospitals and hospices, and other organizations that benefit people of all ages, as well as animals and the environment.

Noting that the bank reached the $1.05 million mark in terms of grants made over nearly two decades to 144 community nonprofits, President and CEO John Heaps Jr. offered a toast to roughly 150 volunteers and staff members from the organizations who gathered for the celebration on March 21.

“We started 16 years ago with an idea to ask our customers to vote for a worthy organization to receive funds,” Heaps said. “Here’s to the $1 million mark.”

Heaps noted that the bank is most grateful to the 57 organizations and the work they do to strengthen the community. “You make our communities special with your contributions every day. Here’s to you.”

He added that the Customers’ Choice event is, “One of my favorite nights of the year. We’re doing what we should be doing.”

The Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program is an annual offering founded in 2002, through which Florence Bank customers are invited to vote for their favorite local nonprofit in hopes it will receive a share of grant funding. In its early years, awards of $50,000, and later, $75,000, were offered each year by the bank; in more recent years, $100,000 has been disbursed each spring.

To qualify for a community grant, organizations must receive at least 50 votes; Marketing Director Monica Curhan said at the event that this year each vote is worth about $15 to the organizations.

She also said that, for the first time this year, eight organizations that received between 40 and 49 votes were invited to attend the event to vie for one bonus $500 award.

Leaders from three of the eight were present—Easthampton Dollars for Scholars, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School PTO and the Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley Inc.

As Heaps was poised to pull from a raffle that would determine the winner of the $500, he surprised everyone saying, “You are all worthy of a $500 grant. The bank will make awards to each of your organizations.”

He noted that Florence Bank is a mutual bank, and, as such, does not need to pay quarterly dividends to stockholders. “We can do the things we want to do. We can keep our focus on our customers and our community” he said, noting the bank’s assets stand at $1.3 billion.

As nonprofit staff and leaders sipped champagne, had their photographs taken with oversized checks bearing the amounts of their awards and mingled with colleagues and community members, they also celebrated the bank’s assistance.

“We get letters every day from people thanking us for the care we provide,” said Priscilla Ross, executive director of the Cooley Dickinson VNA & Hospice. “It’s felt like we’ve been getting more and more letters. This backs it up.”

This year marked the first year that bank customers chose the VNA to receive an award, in the amount of $1,287. Ross said, “What Florence Bank does for our community is so unique and valuable.”

In 2017, before the Dec. 31 deadline, 10,111 votes were cast through Customers’ Choice. The following are the organizations, the amounts received, and, when available, the projects that will be undertaken with the funds: Dakin Humane Society, $5,000, to support the organization’s Pet Food Pantry; Friends of Forbes Library, $4,820, book and media purchases, programming for adults, teens and children, new technology and staff development; Friends of Williamsburg Regional Library, $4,100, children’s programming and materials; The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, $3,990, to fulfill its mission; Cancer Connection, $3,785, peer support; Northampton Survival Center, $3,565, non-meat protein items; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, $3,548, training for new mentors; Amherst Survival Center, $3,046, to support the center’s community meals program; Pelham Elementary School PTO, $2,952, school supplies, cultural events and anti-bullying training; Friends of Lilly Library, $2,700, library programs for children and young adults; Easthampton Elementary Schools PTO, $2,418; Jackson Street School PTO, $2,402; New Hingham Regional Elementary School PTO, $2,230, after-school enrichment programs and to offset the cost of field trips; BARC, Inc., $2,198, to pay vet bills related to illness for those who adopt a cat with feline leukemia; Northampton Senior Center, $2,200, transportation programs; Northampton High School PTO, $2,072; Emily Williston Memorial Library, $1,915, new programming for young readers; Hospice of the Fisher Home, $1,775, to off-set the cost of care for those patients who cannot afford it; R.K. Finn Ryan Road School, $1,743, books with an anti-bias theme; Safe Passage, $1,743, legal advice and representation for survivors of domestic violence; Friends of Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School, $1,727, general operations and grants for teachers and staff; Belchertown Day School, $1,507, literacy and dramatic play; The Edward Hopkins Educational Foundation, $1,445, programming in the Hadley public schools; The Friends of Clapp Library, $1,430, children’s programming; Amherst Regional Public Schools Parent Guardian Organization, $1,413, field trips, supplies, social school events and mini-grants;  Kestrel Land Trust, $1,413, outdoor leadership program in Holyoke for high school students; Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, $1,413, art and music programs; Grow Food Northampton, $1,335, affordable access to healthy, local food for low-income families; Williamsburg Firefighters Association, $1,335, a meter that detects multiple gases; Friends of the Amherst Senior Center, $1,320, senior health services; Tapestry Health Systems, Inc., $1,320, sexual reproductive health, overdose prevention, HIV/AIDS support services and family nutrition; Friends of M.N. Spear Memorial Library, $1,303, to bolster the fund to build a new library; Cooley Dickinson VNA & Hospice, $1,287, creative services that support end-of-life care; Leeds Elementary School PTO, $1,225; Hampshire Regional High School, $1,193, student leadership training; Easthampton Community Center, $1,180, summer programming for children; The Hartsbrook School, $1,162, tuition financial aid for qualifying families; Northampton Community Music Center, $1,162, student scholarships; Easthampton Band Boosters, $1,115, instrument storage lockers at Easthampton High School; Northampton Community Rowing, $1,100, outreach efforts for adults and youths; Hitchcock Center for the Environment, $1,021, to support the camp scholarship fund; ServiceNet Inc., $990, to assist clients as they transition from a shelter to a home of their own; The Belchertown Police K-9 Unit, $928, dog food, veterinary care, training and certification costs; Hilltown Community Health Centers, $928, health programs; Whole Children, $928, the Friendship Band; Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, $911, training and membership fees; Bridge Street School PTO, $895, after school programming; Cooley Dickinson Hospital, $880, to support opioid and addiction education; John F. Kennedy Middle School PTO, $880, grants for teachers; Mass Audubon Connecticut River Sanctuaries, $880, Arcadia’s climate change education programs in the Pioneer Valley; Our Lady of the Hills Parish, $865, tables and chairs in the parish hall; CISA, $850, workshops and technical assistance; Belchertown Firefighters Association, $801, equipment for the Belchertown Fire Department; MANNA Soup Kitchen, Inc., $801, to support the mission; Center for Women & Community at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, $785, transportation, emergency medical care, forensic exams, and legal aid for survivors of sexual assault; Center for New Americans, $785, career advice; and Granby Senior Center, $785, the center’s Veteran’s Appreciation breakfast.

The five organizations that received just under 50 votes and were unable to attend were: Riverside Industries, Westfield Homeless Cat Project, Belchertown Public Schools, Franklin Land Trust and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Office of Pastoral Concerns.

The Customers’ Choice Community Grants program is a year-long initiative. Customers’ of the bank can vote via paper ballots until Dec. 31 at each bank branch location or online at https://www.florencebank.com/vote.

Nonprofits are encouraged to create campaigns to motivate their constituents, those who are Florence Bank customers, to vote. To request materials to help with a campaign, email marketing@florencebank.com and request a Customers’ Choice kit.

Florence Bank has branches in Amherst, Belchertown, Easthampton, Granby, Hadley, Northampton, Williamsburg and West Springfield, and it is headquartered in Florence.

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