Friday January 4, 2013

BENNINGTON -- There was some added incentive through the month of December to purchase a new Subaru -- and it wasn't the falling snow.

Over the last four years, the automaker's "Share the Love" promotional event has contributed nearly $20 million to charity. This year, the event ran from Nov. 21 to Jan. 2, 2013 and supported five nonprofits including the Alzheimer's Association, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Meals on Wheels Association of America, and the United Service Organizations Inc.

For each new car sold, Subaru of America donated $250 to the charity (or charities) of the customer's choice. Bennington Subaru was also getting in on the act by supporting local affiliates of those national organizations. Each Monday, Subaru employees have volunteered to deliver meals through Meals on Wheels of Bennington County.

"It's our way of helping the local (organizations)," said Lynn Taylor of Bennington Subaru, who said she had enjoyed making the deliveries and meeting seniors receiving meals. "It's been great."

"It really is a great experience," agreed dealership owner Tom Lyons, who said the deliveries came about as a way for employees to give back locally.

"The biggest help is to participate," he said.

Roger Stone, the board chairman of Bennington County Meals on Wheels, said seniors receiving meals had "gotten a kick" out of the change in pace in December, with two or three people delivering each meal.

"When we come in wearing Christmas hats ... it makes their week," Stone said. "It is a genuine fun experience."

Stone said such public-private partnerships were an important source of revenue as other funding dwindled. "It's an important future for nonprofits," he said, and mutually beneficial to both the company and nonprofit. Identifying a misperception about the Meals on Wheels program, Stone said it wasn't a hand-out but rather a nutrition program for seniors. The program offers home-delivered meals for individuals ages 60 and older. While is no income eligibility requirement or per-meal cost, seniors receiving meals are asked to voluntarily contribute.

Working from two kitchens in Manchester and Bennington, the local organization served approximately 44,000 meals in 2012 throughout the county. But that figure represents only about 7 percent of people who could benefit according to recent census figures.

Stone said studies had demonstrated the importance of proper nutrition, and a recently awarded $20,000 grant from Vermont Community Foundation's Innovations and Collaborations Program will go toward providing free meals for seniors recently discharged at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in an effort to decrease readmissions at the hospital.

But "it's not just the chemistry of the food, it's the chemistry of the relationship" between seniors and those delivering the meals, Stone said.

"The drivers are an extremely important part (of the equation)."

As a way to support another local organization, two trees on the Subaru dealership floor were decorated with photographs of cats and dogs available for adoption at Shaftsbury's Second Chance Animal Center. "It's been a good affiliation," said Lyons.