We Awarded $150,000 to Local Nonprofits at Our 22nd Annual Customers’ Choice Community Grants Event

We were excited to award $150,000 to 40 area nonprofits through our annual Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program, in which bank customers cast votes to determine how funds are dispersed.

“Last year, for our 150th anniversary celebration, we increased the total amount of our Customers’ Choice grant awards to $150,000 because it drew a nice parallel, and we wanted to continue that level of giving this year,” President and CEO Matt Garrity told those gathered at the annual celebration at the Garden House at Look Park on Tuesday, May 14. 

“We are proud of the history of our unique grant program, and we respect our customers and enjoy giving them a chance to help decide where we allocate funds in the region,” Matt added. “It gives our customers a voice and offers much-needed assistance to many organizations serving people in need.”

Matt handed out checks to 40 nonprofit leaders across the region.

For the second year in a row, 13 organizations received $5,000 grants: Dakin Humane Society in Springfield, Cancer Connection, Inc. in Northampton, It Takes A Village in Huntington, Friends of the Williamsburg Library, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Florence, Friends of Forbes Library in Northampton, Manna Soup Kitchen in Northampton, Goshen Firefighters Association, Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Chicopee, Our Lady of the Hills Parish in Haydenville, Amherst Survival Center in North Amherst, Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, and Northampton Survival Center.

“I appreciate Florence Bank’s focus on community involvement and its expansion of this program in recent years,” says Lev BenEzra, executive director of Amherst Survival Center in North Amherst, which has received a grant annually for many years. “We love the approach of bank leaders looking to their customers who are community members in the region to identify meaningful organizations that are highly effective and doing good work. It’s an inclusive process and simplifies the process for organizations.”

Amherst Survival Center is a gathering place for area residents with a focus on food and food security; it provides prepared meals and full grocery shops from its food pantry in addition to a free, walk-in medical clinic, resources for people experiencing homelessness, a resource center and a robust array of community activities ranging from art workshops to healing and mental health to office hours with elected officials. 

Funds from Florence Bank will support the center’s food and nutrition programs, Lev says, noting that the need from clients is at record levels. “The food pantry is serving 40 to 50 percent more people each month than during the peak surges of the pandemic,” she says. “The timing of this award and community members votes is perfect. Need is greater than ever before in Amherst Survival Center’s history.”

Like Lev, all nonprofit leaders were upbeat and expressed gratitude for Florence Bank at the Customers’ Choice event, which is traditionally a festive and joyful gala.

Miriam Kudler-Flam, the communications and marketing manager at Abundance Farm on the campus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton, says her organization received a Customers’ Choice grant for the first time.

The farm is located between Prospect Street and the bike path and has a mission to build a more generous, just and sustainable world by offering earth-based community building experiences that integrate Jewish tradition, regenerative agriculture and the just distribution of food.

Abundance Farm, founded 10 years ago, has a partnership with the nearby Northampton Survival Center, inviting the center’s clients to visit the farm, harvest food and participate in events, as well as welcoming all visitors from the area to enjoy their produce, land and community.

“We want to be a place where people from different walks of life meet,” Miriam says, adding, “We’re thrilled to receive this grant. It’s a huge show of support from our community. To know that the community we support and are so connected to sees us as an asset is meaningful.”

The $2,824 grant from Florence Bank will be used by Abundance Farm for staffing and materials for its Pick-Your-Own Community Harvest program, through which all are welcome, from May through October, to freely pick fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Jill Carra, the communications and marketing manager at the Foundation for TJO Animals, which supports the Thomas J. O’Conner Adoption Center in Springfield, says the bank has supported the foundation for many years—and thus, the adoption center—but this is the first year the organization received a grant award.

The $2,645 received will go into a general fund to pay for animals’ medical care and treatment.

Jill says the foundation is committed to the health and welfare of the animals at the shelter. It provides financial assistance to support the much-needed medical care and treatment for the animals, including diagnostics, medications, surgeries, medical equipment and enrichment supplies. 

Over 3,000 animals are served annually, including dogs, cats and other animals such as rabbits, birds, Guinea pigs—and more. Jill says there has been an uptake of animals coming to the shelter from pet owners who are no longer able to care for them for various reasons, with the economy being a big barrier in recent years.

“We were completely overwhelmed when we found out we’d received a grant,” she adds. “It was a very pleasant surprise, and we are truly grateful. The bank, over many years, has been a number one supporter of the foundation, and this program shows that the community really cares about us as well.”

Florence Bank’s community grants program is an annual offering founded in 2002 and, through it, our customers are invited to vote for their favorite local nonprofit in hopes it will receive a share of grant funding.

Voting takes place all year long, online at florencebank.com/vote and in bank branches, and each customer has only one vote. To qualify for a community grant, organizations must receive at least 50 votes. In 2023,  7,168 votes were cast, making 40 nonprofits eligible for a grant.

In addition to the nonprofits that received a $5,000 grant, these organizations also received an award at Florence Bank’s annual Customers’ Choice gala: BARC, Inc in Belchertown, $4,752; Friends of Northampton Legion Baseball in Northampton, $4,258; Amherst Neighbors, $4,258; Easthampton Community Center, $4,124; Friends of M.N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury, $4,079; Northampton Youth Football in Florence, $3,900; Williamsburg Firefighters Association, $3,541; Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, $3,272; Friends of Lilly Library in Florence, $3,272; Smith Vocational High School PTO in Northampton, $3,227; Northampton Neighbors, $3,183; Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Holyoke, $3,093; Grow Food Northampton, Inc. in Florence, $3,003; Edward Hopkins Educational Foundation in Hadley, $2,914; Historic Northampton, $2,869; Abundance Farm in Northampton, $2,824; Northampton Community Music Center, $2,779; Parlor Room in Northampton, $2,779; Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in South Hadley, $2,779; Thomas J. O’Connor Adoption Center in Springfield, $2,645; Shriners Children’s New England in Springfield, $2,645; Bright Spot Therapy Dogs in West Brookfield, $2,600; Kestrel Land Trust in Amherst, $2,555; Hospice of the Fisher Home in Amherst, $2,555; Belchertown K-9 Unit in Belchertown, $2,510; Safe Passage in Northampton, $2,331; and Northampton Senior Center / Council on Aging, $2,241.

Visit https://www.florencebank.com/cc-2024 to view the complete list of grant recipients.