Since launching the Community First Grant program in 2016, Whole Foods Market Team Members have helped us award 342 grants in 128 cities, investing over $2,203,000 to increase access to fresh, healthy foods and nutrition education. Nearly 200 Team Members from 100 Whole Foods Market stores, 11 regional offices and our Global Support office have participated!

Read on to learn how two of these Team Members got started, how they evolved their stores’ relationships with their community partners and what they learned during the grant year.

Changing Outlooks & Outcomes in Massachusetts

James Clancy is an Associate Store Team Leader at the Whole Foods Market Store in Hingham, Massachusetts and has been a Team Member for nearly 15 years. He has participated in the Community First Grant program twice, securing grants for Victory Programs, an organization dedicated to helping individuals and families who are unhoused and may have substance use disorders often accompanied by chronic health issues, and Weymouth Food Pantry, which provides food assistance and nutrition education to hundreds of families each month. Check out James’ experience.

Whole Cities Foundation: How did you learn about your partners and what steps did you first take to support them?

James Clancy: I was trying to find potential partner organizations in the region, and I learned about Victory Programs by word of mouth. A former Team Member from one of my prior stores had mentioned that he liked to volunteer with them. I was ignorant about their mission until I did some research. I then reached out to them to learn firsthand about the work they did and what they would need for support. A simple email and a phone call got us moving in the right direction!

Before I moved stores, I handed off the Victory Programs relationship to a peer at the Fresh Pond store, and then when I was at the Hingham store, I wanted to replicate what we had grown in Boston. I reviewed prior years’ grants and saw that Weymouth Food Pantry had been a long-time community partner. I found out that everyone involved in the partnership had left the stores, so I wanted to pick up the relationship. My first step was simply learning about them, who to contact, and then learning about their needs so we could best support them. They have a very large dynamic organization, so they can accept help in a lot of different ways.

How did you get the stores and individual Team Members to help support these two Community First Grants partnerships?

JC: Our stores are filled with Team Members who truly care about the communities they live and work in. A lot of them came to Whole Foods Market for that very reason. So, it boils down to interpersonal communication and education. Emails and flyers will help, but if a Team Member understands what you are doing, the mission and the impact, they get excited to participate. After every volunteering day is complete, my one ‘ask’ for everyone who participates is to go back to the store and tell their fellow Team Members about it—what they saw, heard and experienced.

How has your involvement with the Community First Grant impacted your experience at Whole Foods Market?

JC: Working with Victory Programs and Weymouth Food Pantry has changed my entire outlook on the world. How I viewed the unhoused has completely changed. I had no idea the amount of people struggling with housing and suffering from HIV in the city. To meet them on a personal level and get just a small glimpse of their perspective changed my core beliefs. With Weymouth Food Pantry, it was shocking to see how many people where I grew up desperately need support. These are not numbers in an article, but people living among us that struggle for basic subsistence that many of us take for granted. Getting to know the people that the Whole Foods Market foundations are helping makes my career at Whole Foods Market so much more rewarding

What advice would you give Team Members looking to create long-term partnerships with local nonprofits through the Community First Grant?

JC: You can’t do it alone. Your Team Members care and would love to participate. The more Team Members you have that can help you grow the relationship, the more stable it will be, and the more it will grow naturally. Also, build a personal relationship with the Whole Cities Foundation team. Those lines of communication will also help grow your relationship into a partnership.


Growing Together in Florida

Jimmy Jaime joined Whole Foods Market six years ago and is currently an e-Commerce Associate Team Leader at the Whole Foods Market Winter Park store in Florida. In 2018, he secured a Community First Grant for Health in the Hood, a Miami-based organization whose mission is to provide equal food access for all, one community garden at a time. Here is Jimmy’s story.

Whole Cities Foundation: How did you learn about Health in the Hood, and what steps did you first take to support them?

Jimmy Jaime: One of our regional Team Members informed our team about Health in the Hood. We knew it was an organization we wanted to help and immediately reached out.

You spearheaded an annual volunteer opportunity with Health in the Hood for three years and increased the number of Team Member participants each year. How did you get Team Members on board?

JJ: I raised awareness by getting the store engaged and excited for volunteer opportunities. I posted signage that showcased what we would be accomplishing and how to get involved. In addition, I hosted a storewide meeting to get Team Members hyped about ways we would be volunteering. Increasing awareness throughout the store was a great way to build connections and help a greater cause.

How has your involvement with the Community First Grant program impacted your experience at Whole Foods Market?

JJ: My experience with the Community First Grant program allowed me to grow within the community. I was able to meet similar people and then make a wider impact on the community by hosting future opportunities like Pride and kickball events for the metro area.

What advice would you give Team Members looking to create long-term partnerships with local nonprofits through the Community First Grant?

JJ: Find your passion. Building a partnership between Team Members and the Whole Foods Market foundations allows us to showcase what it means to “care about the community and the environment.”

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