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Vogel: Nineteen Days

Next Wednesday, February 25, The Norwich community will gather at the Marion Cross School to celebrate the nineteen days of Norwich.The idea behind this campaign came from Dan and Whit’s, a general store that’s been at the center of the Norwich community for more than 60 years.

Last year, one of the store owners, Dan Fraser, discovered that the food pantry at the Upper Valley Haven, which provides groceries to several thousand families and also feeds and shelters the homeless, was chronically short of essentials like milk and eggs. And he decided to do something about it.

The result was a campaign called the nineteen days of Norwich. Dan got local businesses, including his store, to donate 1% of their sales during the first nineteen days of December to the Haven. As he explained, “1% is nothing until combined with all the other businesses.”

Last year was the first year for this campaign, and “sales at sponsoring stores in Norwich totaled over a million dollars.” Shoppers were also encouraged to donate food and cash and the result was a $27,000 donation to the Haven and twelve tons of food.

This year, the Byrne Foundation offered to provide a $50,000 matching grant which Norwich businesses and shoppers matched in 18 days. The Byrne Foundation then increased the match to $75,000 and allowed the participants to extend the deadline. By the end of January $231,000 had been raised, nearly all of it in donations of less than $500.

The conventional wisdom is that in capital campaigns most of the money comes from large donations. But in this case, other than the Byrne Foundation grant, the largest single contribution was $5,000 and the second largest was $2,000.

But then most fundraising campaigns are not sponsored by local businesses, especially businesses that draw in hundreds of customers each day.

In a recent posting on the Norwich list serve Dan wrote that the $231,000 raised will purchase “almost two years’ worth of food for The Haven.”

There’s something charming about an old fashioned general store figuring out how to conduct a food drive using social media like Facebook and the local list serve.

It turns out that in the twenty first century, an old fashioned general store can still serve as a catalyst when it comes to neighbors helping neighbors.