Gay Lea Foods is an Ontario, Canada, co-operative owned by 1,200 dairy farmers. Its board of directors and 600 employees take pride in the relationships they’ve built with their communities and customers, and back that up with a commitment to co-operative development around the world. It’s a commitment that earned them first place for Best Fundraising/Philanthropic Initiative in PR Daily’s 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility Awards.
At the heart of Gay Lea’s philanthropic work is the annual Co-op Week, a week of fun and activities to raise funds for co-operatives in developing countries. The Co-op Week team creates a theme (past themes have included the Olympics and a Murder Mystery week), designs activities, and runs the program.
The program kicks off with a waffle breakfast at all Gay Lea locations, where team leaders talk about the year’s project, the importance of supporting co-operatives in developing countries, and the history of Co-op Week fundraising.
Fundraisers include a 50/50 drawing, a nail-driving contest with a $2 entry fee, a moose race between board members, and a Bingo game supported by voluntary yearlong payroll deductions. Co-Op Week also offers plenty of free activities for employees and their families, like a “Family Feud” style game and a competition to guess the amount of candy in a jar.
The best-attended event of the week is the Diversity Potluck Dinner, where employees from different cultures contribute to a potluck meal with a wide diversity of dishes. Employees flock to this event, where for a minimum donation of $5 they can taste food from around the world.
Gay Lea’s goal is to raise a minimum of $50,000 each year. The organization surpassed that in its first year (2012), raising $87,000. Its projects have included building a school in Nepal with three classrooms, a lab, washrooms, and electricity, as well as supporting youth agricultural co-operatives in El Salvador, and providing micro-financing to co-operatives comprised of families of mixed ethnicity in Ghana.
It’s a commitment that employees embrace, and one that supports the organization’s goal of sustaining co-operative development around the world.
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