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Lending a Hand

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It’s already been proven – through countless success stories told in the very pages of Tire Review – that making charity a part of your marketing initiatives pays off both in brand recognition and positive word of mouth.

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While there are scores of worthy causes in need of support in any community, sometimes making the biggest difference takes action – getting your hands dirty, so to speak – instead of simply writing a check. One area in which your shop’s hands-on efforts can make a significant impact is perhaps the most basic of human needs: food.

Though each of the tire dealers profiled in this article has addressed the concept of feeding the community in different ways, they all have made a large, lasting impact. Their stories just may inspire you to find and fill a need in your own area.

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From the Ground Up

Sometimes a small project can grow – literally – into something enormous for the community.

When Phoenix-based Community Tire Pros opens a new location, the company gives itself a year to become familiar with that particular area and what the community’s needs may be before undertaking any major charitable endeavors. When the dealership opened its Durango, Ariz., commercial location, owners Howard and Pat Fleischmann already were considering what could be done with the vacant half-acre lot across the street.

“In Phoenix, 40% of the land mass is made up of vacant lots,” says Pat Fleischmann. “The city is trying to get anybody to create something of beauty on these empty lots, whether it’s a vegetable garden, flower garden or a place of remembrance – anything other than a place for garbage and weeds.”

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The area, which is right off a freeway exit and is made up of mostly lower-income Latino families, is a fruit desert – meaning there’s no fresh fruit or vegetables within a five-mile radius. The neighborhood was in need of something that could bring people together while providing them with fresh produce – so the Community Tire Salsa Garden (communitytiregarden.org) was born.

With help from many, including a landscape architect, Home Depot, Building Together Phoenix, vendors like American Tire Distributors and Bridgestone – and dozens of other groups that donated money, materials and man hours – the garden broke ground in 2013.

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“To date, we’ve harvested more than 1,500 pounds of vegetables for the neighborhood,” Fleischmann says, adding, “That amount will only increase as the ground matures. We will have fruit this year, as well.”

The colorful, lush garden – complete with old tires that are painted and used as planters – continues to attract more and more community members, who are all invited to volunteer in the garden in exchange for free vegetables.communitytire2

The project continues to evolve, as well. 2015 will see the addition of 20 raised beds – which can be adopted and cared for by community members – as well as 60 feet of shade-providing awnings. Lining the walkways between the beds will be 14 pallets of pavers, which will double as a way to raise funds for the garden, with donors being able to purchase a stone and have it engraved with a message of their choosing.

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“Gardening is therapy, both mental and physical,” says Fleischmann, who regularly makes time to tend to the project. “It’s a process and you have to move very slowly. Community members have to trust you and they have to know it’s sustainable – that we’re not going anywhere – and then they’ll get involved.”

Driving the Cause

Whether or not you have a green thumb, it’s still possible to provide massive amounts of food to members of your community.

Performance Plus Tire & Automotive Superstore, located in Long Beach, Calif., began its food collection drive some 18 years ago, when owners Hank and Joyce Feldman’s sons were in Boy Scouts.

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“We decided to combine with the business and do a little food drive, taking food collection baskets to a lot of our suppliers and a few other places to collect food for us,” Joyce Feldman recalls. “That first year we made 10 baskets and gave them to some families that needed help at a local school.”

Pretty soon, that effort began growing exponentially, with hundreds of volunteers joining the cause over the years and the dealership hosting three annual vintage car events – which just this year have been renamed “Performance Plus’ Drive-in to Drive Out Hunger Events” – in support of the Thanksgiving Food Drive.

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Last year, 300 volunteers reported for duty on food drive day, packing 1,800 boxes of food worth $66,000, Feldman notes. The items fed 1,000 families chosen by 16 local nonprofit organizations.

In the early years, the Feldmans approached suppliers for help in the form of putting out a box to collect food. Now, they ask for cash donations or sponsorship of the annual fundraising events.

Sponsorships packages range from $12,000 to $3,000 and cover the marketing and cost of the events themselves, with the remaining portion going to support the food drive. Aside from sponsorship money, Performance Plus collects roughly $15,000 from community members and other suppliers – at the events, via donation request letters and through an annual prize raffle. These funds go directly toward the food drive.

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In addition to financial support, the shop gets volunteer help from dozens of community organizations, area residents and its own staff, most of whom volunteer after-hours to work the car shows and bring their families on food drive day to help pack boxes.

“This project takes over our business in November,” Feldman says. “It doesn’t affect our dollar sales, but it kicks everyone into hyperdrive as we prepare for and execute the drive year after year. Just the sheer impact of storing the food, moving pallets in and out and then housing the boxes after they are packed is huge – however, everyone agrees that this project does make a difference and is needed and helps all to appreciate their own Thanksgiving dinner that much more.

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“Hank and I have always believed in giving back to the community and are very active in volunteer endeavors,” Feldman adds. “Neither of us grew up in affluence so we understood the need of the community. We are happy to have the ability to undertake and give back in such a big way. We are always encouraging other businesses to follow our lead and start their own project.”

Donating Your Expertise

Getting your hands dirty in order to put food on the tables of those in need doesn’t necessarily mean gardening or collecting food; also consider using your shop’s expertise to support a local food organization.

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Several Fountain Tire locations (the company operates 154 stores spanning from Ontario to British Columbia) are doing just that for Grow Calgary, a volunteer-run, non-profit urban farm that provides food bank users with access to a wide variety of fresh, locally grown vegetables.

Fountain Tire’s involvement with the organization started last fall, when Grow Calgary founder Paul Hughes approached the company for help servicing a food delivery truck that was in dire need of repair. He was connected with Dave Lentz, owner of the company’s Fairmont Drive store, who agreed to fix the truck.

“Fountain Tire has deep roots in agriculture,” Lentz says. “Since our founding in 1956, we have been providing tire and maintenance services to farming operations across Western Canada. As a result, when Grow Calgary approached us, there was an immediate connection.”

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Lentz and his team soon realized that Grow Calgary depends on donations of old trucks and that regular tire and mechanical service is essential to keeping the farm’s aging fleet of 15 vehicles roadworthy. Aware of the urban farm’s importance to the community, they offered to service the entire fleet free of charge.

“Ultimately, the decision to help was based on the fact that Grow Calgary does enormous good. Each month, 15,000 Calgarians use the services of the city’s food bank. In 2015 alone, Grow Calgary expects to provide the city’s food bank with 30,000 hampers containing fresh vegetables and produce,” Lentz says. “When we realized the farm’s aging trucks were in desperate need of regular tire and mechanical maintenance to efficiently make pick-ups and deliveries, we saw an opportunity to help people in need of food bank services have access to healthier food choices.”

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When Lentz and other Fountain Tire store owners in Calgary and the surrounding area (Airdrie, Strathmore, Okotoks, Cochrane and High River) also heard Grow Calgary needed a reliable passenger van for its 1,400-plus volunteers, they all pitched in to pay for the van.

After the vehicle was prepared, Hughes was invited to the Fairmont Drive store for what he thought was a routine tune-up. Instead, he found himself receiving the 15-passenger van – complete with customized Grow Calgary decals.

Fountain Tire posted a YouTube video of the event to create social media buzz about Grow Calgary and encourage others to donate.

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“Fountain Tire’s support is huge for us. The new van and the tire and mechanical services being provided to our fleet of food delivery trucks will enable us to take Grow Calgary to the next level in terms of increased harvests and service to food banks,” Hughes said. “In our view, Fountain Tire has taken corporate responsibility to a new level.”

As these tire dealers have shown, rolling up one’s sleeves to personally help hungry members of the community isn’t just good business – it’s being a good neighbor at the most fundamental level. If your shop hasn’t taken this approach before, it may be time to do some research into the food needs of your community.

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