Whole Foods 5% Days
by Lee Morgan

With her socks still damp from wading in a nearby creek with her fellow employees, Whole Foods Marketing Team Leader Jennifer Anthony plops down at a table in the café at the Green Hills Whole Foods Market to talk about how their company does things a little differently.

The team had been pulling trash and debris (even a mattress) out of nearby Sugartree Creek all morning in an attempt to give back to their community in the form of volunteer time. Itâ€TMs just one way the value-focused company takes part in community service, and many of these projects grow as organically as the in-store products they sell.

A company-wide program known as 5% Days allows Whole Foods to provide local charitable organizations with cash donations; often, the storeâ€TMs team members elect to provide volunteer manpower, too.

“We do 5% Day once per quarter,” Anthony says. “We give five percent of our net sales over the course of a day to one applicant. Thatâ€TMs everything that passes through the registers here at Whole Foods and at Whole Body.”

Any non-profit in the local area can apply at any time, according to Anthony. A quick visit to Wholefoodsmarket.com and a click of the â€~Community Givingâ€TM link will give potential candidates access to the application. And while the next selection, to be announced in August, has already been made, applications are kept on file for those who donâ€TMt make the cut the first time.

“I review the applications and look for applicants whose organizations are most in line with [Whole Foodsâ€TM] core values,” Anthony says. “They need to have a strong connection and commitment to the community. It can be working to stop hunger, it can be environmental or any other type of efforts in the community that reflect what Whole Foods stands for.”

Anthony narrows the candidates down to four finalists each quarter and leaves it up to the staff to vote for a winner.

“I put four organizations on the ballot and our team members choose who will benefit on the next 5% Day,” she says. “I love that because it brings the team members deeper into the community and they become actively involved and empowered during the selection process.”

And it doesnâ€TMt end there.

Remember those employees donating their time to clean up the creek? It tends to work that way for many of the NPOs Whole Foods selects. Recent 5% Day recipients have enjoyed a boost in volunteer headcounts thanks to Whole Foods team participation.

The most recent recipient of the 5% Day program was Volunteer Equine Advocates, a Gallatin-based, volunteer-only not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of horses that have been abused, neglected or abandoned across Tennessee. The organization not only received monetary aid from the program, but also volunteer help from Whole Foods employees who felt a connection to the organization and scheduled time to work on the farm.

“I think that is why it is so important to select places that are in line with our core values,” Anthony says. “Because if they are, then we should be partnering with them. We want to serve and support the community, so when we make those great connections we should keep them.”

And this isnâ€TMt an isolated incident. Whole Foods team members regularly work with other past recipients of the 5% Day program. They drive delivery trucks for the Nashville Food Project once per month and volunteer in the Heimerdinger Foundationâ€TMs Meals 2 Heal kitchen regularly.

So, how impactful is 5% Day in the community? It appears to be significantly impactful. “[Volunteer Equine Advocates] thought they were going to get about $500 or so,” Anthony says. “When we sent them an email letting them know that we were writing a check for $6831, they were elated. I got a letter back from [VEA board member] Pamela Stansberry letting me know how thrilled they were. They were able to get everything they needed to care for the horses they took in over the winter and the supplies they needed for their pastures. It was great to see the impact we made.”

“We get some horses in here that are in very bad health,” Stansberry says. “And the vet bills alone can get really high. We are all volunteers and we are only able to exist on the funds people give us. Jennifer and Whole Foods have been wonderful. Lots of worthwhile organizations apply for this and we are so happy they chose us. We really needed the money.”

Who knew that buying milk, bread and eggs in a panic just before last winterâ€TMs big snow and ice scare might mean enough food for a pasture of horses to stay full and healthy through the tough months? It appears the folks at Whole Foods know it can happen and have put together an effective way of helping the public help their own communities.

To apply to be a candidate for the 5% Day program, go to http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/donate and select your local Whole Foods store to start the process.