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Roughly $1.2 million donated through annual Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program over 18 years

 

FLORENCE— Food distribution to feed neighbors throughout Western Mass. Literacy programs for children and teens. Counseling and legal advocacy for adult and children survivors of domestic violence. Student scholarships for socio-economically-disadvantaged students.

These are some of the programs and services that will benefit area residents thanks to the Florence Bank Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program, through which $100,000 was presented to 57 area nonprofits at an awards celebration on March 10 at the Garden House at Look Memorial Park.

During the event, Florence Bank president Kevin R. Day handed out 57 checks to nonprofits that received at least 50 votes from bank customers in 2019, topping the $1.2 million mark in terms of grants made to community nonprofits over almost two decades.

Day and Florence Bank chief executive officer, John F. Heaps, also gave an additional $500 to six organizations that received between 40 and 49 votes and were vying for one $500 bonus award.

Easthampton Dollars for Scholars was chosen in that drawing, but after the applause died down, Heaps said, “There are still five other organizations – I need some help from all of you.” In response, the crowd excitedly shouted, “do it!” After a pause, Heaps said with a grin, “Maybe we should pick another one?”

Heaps then selected the next raffle winner, first time grant nominees, Shriners Children’s Hospital in Springfield. After playfully consenting with Florence Bank board chairman, Bob Borawski and the other board members in attendance, he was encouraged to keep going, giving each of the remaining four organizations a $500 grant.

The Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program is an annual offering founded in 2002, through which Florence Bank customers are invited to vote for their favorite local nonprofit in hopes it will receive a share of grant funding. Heaps told nonprofit leaders that the idea that customers would vote to disperse the funds came during a conversation 19 years ago with his late wife, Jane, and friends.

This year’s award ceremony was especially poignant for Heaps, as it was the last Customers’ Choice awards he’ll preside over. Heaps is due to retire in May after an historic 25 years as president and chief executive officer.

Heaps reflected on his tenure at the bank by sharing the three things he’s most proud of, “First off, the bank is still in existence after 147 years and will continue to be. Being a mutual bank allows us to take care of our customers, our employees and all of you.”

He then added, “Secondly, it’s got to be this incredible event. The program is a great way of giving back to our community and the organizations that matter most to our customers. Lastly, I’m proud to leave the bank in the hands of Kevin Day. Kevin understands this community, the bank and most importantly, our customers.”

Before passing the microphone over to Day, Heaps concluded by toasting the crowd of community leaders, “This is a group of people who work hard to help the people in our community and this place would not be the same without you.”

Day reiterated Heaps’ sentiment by adding, “There are so many good things about Florence Bank that I’ve experienced, but this program is one of the best. This program is unique. It’s a perfect example of what the bank represents and stands for. The energy tonight and the comradery amongst those who serve our community is outstanding.”

The six organizations that unexpectedly received a bonus $500 grant were: Easthampton Dollars for Scholars, Shriners Children’s Hospital Springfield, Friends of Amherst Senior Center, Friends of Hilltown Cooperative School, JFK Middle School and Belchertown Day School.

The following organizations received more than 50 customer votes and received these awards at the event: Dakin Humane Society, $5,000, Cancer Connection, $4,771, Friends of the Williamsburg Libraries, $3,587, Northampton Survival Center, $3,531, Friends of Forbes Library, $3,400, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, $3,381, Amherst Survival Center, $3,268, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, $3,155, Friends of Lilly Library, $3,024, Our Lady of the Hills Parish, $2,968, Williamsburg Firefighter Association, $2,517, New Hingham Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization, $2,385, Northampton High School Parent-Teacher Organization, $2,197, BARC, Inc., $1,897, Northampton Senior Center, $1,859, Grow Food Northampton, $1,803, Safe Passage, $1,707, The Friends of Northampton Legion Baseball, $1,747, MANNA Soup Kitchen, $1,671, Kestrel Land Trust, $1,540, Northampton Community Music Center, $1,540, Hospice of the Fisher Home, $1,502, Children First Enterprises, Inc., $1,427, Community Action Pioneer Valley, $1,408, Easthampton Elementary Schools Parent-Teacher Organization, $1,408, Belchertown Firefighters Association, $1,390, Jackson Street School Parent-Teacher Organization, $1,371, Granby Senior Center, $1,296,  Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, $1,296, Northampton Neighbors, $1,277, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, $1,258, Belchertown Police K-9 Unit, $1,258, Historic Northampton, $1,239, RK Finn Ryan Road School, $1, 202, Friends of M.N. Spear Memorial Library, $1,202,  Friends of Clapp Memorial Library, $1,202, Easthampton Community Center, $1,202, Edward Hopkins Educational Foundation, $1,183, It Takes a Village, $1,164, Amherst Regional Public Schools Parent Guardian Organization, $1,164, Tapestry Health Systems, $1,145, Cub Scout Pack 705 (Chesterfield), $1,145, Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuaries, $1,127, Whole Children, $1,127, Hitchcock Center for the Environment, $1,127, Belchertown Band Boosters, $1,108, Williamsburg Grange #225, $1,070,Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School Parent-Teacher Organization, $1,051, Riverside Industries, Inc., $1,033, Pelham Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization, $955, Emily Williston Memorial Library, $955, Belchertown Public Schools, $995, Cooley Dickinson VNA & Hospice, $976, Amherst Neighbors, $976, Granby Preservation Society, $958, The Hartsbrook School, $939.

The Customers’ Choice Community Grants program is a year-long initiative. Customers’ of the bank can vote via paper ballots at each bank branch location or online at https://www.florencebank.com/vote.

Florence Bank has branches in Amherst, Belchertown, Easthampton, Granby, Hadley, Northampton, Williamsburg, West Springfield, and Springfield, and it is headquartered in Florence.

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