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Whole Foods Market and Dublin High School’s Culinary Program Partner for Kitchen Success

April 2, 2016

WFM 2Part of what leads to a successful community is the willing partnership between local businesses and its own civic organizations. As a case in point, we were recently informed of a highly unique circumstance between the Dublin High School Culinary Program and Whole Foods Market located in the Persimmon Place shopping complex. DHS Culinary was the recent beneficiary through the “Nickels for Nonprofits” program hosted by Whole Foods Market. How are these nickels raised? Simply by those that can be credited when shoppers utilize reusable shopping bags. In this case, the 4Q15 store effort ultimately benefited the program led by Ms. Jackie Lawson. Recently, these proceeds were delivered to Jackie and her students in the amount over $2,300.00. recently had the opportunity to engage with Ms. Lawson and she explained how this program came their way. Please explain how you initially connected with Whole Foods and then how you became aware of the “Nickels for Nonprofits” program.

Dublin High School Culinary Arts Teacher Jackie LawsonJackie Lawson: “As culinary instructor at DHS I was invited to attend the store’s grand opening dinner.  While at that dinner I inquired about who would be the community outreach person for the store as we had partnered with Whole Foods in San Ramon previously. Paul Barron was introduced to me where we set up an appointment to meet and discuss potential collaboration.  At that meeting we discussed a field trip, store department demos for my students and donation opportunities including Pennies for Non-Profits. With Paul’s help we applied for the opportunity to be named the stores’ non-profit.” Articulate the reaction by both your students and you to the amount donated to the culinary program.  How do you plan to utilize these funds?

Lawson: “Wow. My students and I were so surprised that someone would give us that much money.  We knew how many catering jobs we would need to complete to net that large amount.  The funds will b e used to purchase a 30 quart mixer.  This machine will be useful when we need to make cake for 200 for example.”

DSC_0730So, in order to gain a better understanding of how Whole Foods Market is contributing to multiple causes within the community, we reached out to those that perform this work every day. At the Dublin Blvd. location, we met with both Paul Barron and Katie Ransom. While the headquarters is located in Emeryville, both of them work daily in the field identify ways to bridge their business to their respective communities. We asked them to expand upon their roles with Whole Foods Market. The result is a “hybrid” of both of their responses. Please explain how the “Nickels for Nonprofits” program functions.  How are the nickels generated and what is the fundraising period generally devoted to an organization?

DSC_0716Paul Barron/Katie Ransom: “The Nickels for Nonprofits program is one of the most impactful Community Giving programs we have at Whole Foods Market.  In an effort to promote sustainability in our community we offer our customers the option to ‘donate’ one nickel for each reusable bag used while shopping.  That donated nickel, along with others, accumulates in a holding account over a 3 month period of time.  Every 3 months we select a new recipient for our customers’ donated nickels, and the DHS Culinary Program was the selected recipient from October (’15) to January 2016.  So, in essence, it the community of Dublin and the Tri Valley area that has made this donation and Whole Foods Market has been the conduit for making it happen.“ Through your discussions with Ms. Lawson and your visit to DHS, what was your impression of the culinary program?

Barron/Ranson: “Ms. Lawson has always impressed me with her passion for her career.  It is clear from the moment you first meet her that she cares deeply about her role in supporting the youth, but not only through teaching valuable cooking skills and nutrition knowledge, but also with life lessons that come with it.  Case in point is that this isn’t your standard HS culinary program because this group of students actually operates a catering company.  Having this experience lends opportunities to learn about purchasing, wholesale vs. retail, profits & loss, production cycles, vendor relations and so on.  These are a lot of the same skills on a daily basis by the team members who work at Whole Foods Market.  The parallels were quite apparent! Within the culinary kitchen we saw so many of pieces of commercial equipment we also use. Furthermore we saw a connection and celebration that centered around food and brought a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and joy to the students.”  In addition to the Nickels program, please share the other ways in which Whole Foods partners with their local communities.

DSC_0731Barron/Ransom: “Through our Community Giving programs we are able to connect with our communities in a variety of ways. We routinely donate food to small and large ‘groups’ or nonprofit organizations. We hold quarterly our 5% Days, where 5% of the store’s sales for that day are donated to a local nonprofit.  We aim to support the city by sponsoring events such as the St Patrick’s Festival and the Thursday Night Farmers Market.  Those events in particular allow to us get out of the store and connect one-on-one with our fellow community members, through food, and in meaningful ways.  Also we do use real dollars to make some of the actions happen and we always strive to put a more personal touch on our sponsorships and events. In the store(s) we place an emphasis on sourcing local product when possible. By supporting local producers, shapers and makers we are able to bring the best of what’s new and trending in the industry direct to our customers.  On this same topic we have a Local Producer Loan Recipient program that provides up-and-coming vendors with low interest loans (about 3%) in amounts that range from $5K to $100K in the hopes that we can help that business scale as they grow.” Please share why you and your associates like working for Whole Foods.  Why would you consider Whole Foods as a desirable employer? 

IMG_2847Barron/Ransom: “Whole Foods Market has been a great place to work for me.  I’ve been with the company for about six years. I started making sandwiches in the Prepared Foods dept, and worked my up, so to say.  I do have a degree in Marketing from CSU Chico, so when I was working in a store (Sonoma) that had a marketing position opening, and I applied for it, interviewed, and was offered the job! Along the way I chose to work in various stores so I could take advantage of promotional opportunities.  Because of this I have worked in our Novato, Napa, Sonoma, and Dublin stores. I’ve met and learned from thousands of fellow team members along the way, and now that I am based out our Emeryville office (but oversee Marketing and Community relations for Dublin, San Ramon, Lafayette and Walnut Creek) I still maintain those connections and love to catch up with friends during store visits. Many others I work with really appreciate our open-minded approach to our company culture. As long as we are following food safety policies we really are free to express ourselves how we want.”

So, to paraphrase from the film Casablanca, “This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.” would like to thank the associates from Whole Foods Market and to Jackie Lawson for sharing the wonderful elements of this story. It is gratifying to witness how local commerce can work with and ultimately benefit our students.


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