Downtown News and Blog

Doing Well by Doing Good

August 15, 2017 Written by

Published in Downtown News and Blog

Downtown is the state’s center for government, culture, religion and much more. Here at Downtown the Magazine, we’d argue downtown is also state’s philanthropic center as well. The generosity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be understated, as well as a litany of local leaders who donate their time and resources in the name of a better community, plus countless public initiatives. Volumes can (and have) been written about most of these people and organizations, but there are three downtown “do-gooders” we’re especially proud of. Cotopaxi, Utah Woolen Mills and Even Stevens have hearts as large as the Great Salt Lake, and these corporate citizens show it in unique ways.

Cotopaxi
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Walking past Cotopaxi’s flagship store (74 S Main Street), it’s hard to look beyond the bright colors and sleek design of technical jackets, backpacks and outdoor gear. Digging a bit deeper though, we found Cotopaxi is a brand with a mission, and the products in their store are just the beginning.

Cotopaxi’s Teca Windbreakers are created using remnant and upcycled materials that would usually be thrown away or laid to waste. Their Kusa line of products was designed to support local farming communities in the Altiplano region of Bolivia. “We work with local farmers to source this sustainable, unique fleece insulation for high-performing technical lifestyle apparel,” says chief impact officer Lindsey Kneuven. We should point out that a company who employs a Chief Impact Officer, dedicated to programs which positively impact people, really defines what Cotopaxi is all about. Beyond products, Cotopaxi creates opportunities with several initiatives, many times through a partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). One program for example, with partner Nothing But Nets, Cotopaxi supports health, education and livelihoods initiatives for refugees.

Cotopaxi's Global Good Project, also launched with the IRC promotes digital inclusion and builds computer science capacity among New Americans. “Cotopaxi is committed to empowering people to lift themselves out of poverty by creating sustainable income opportunities,” says Kneuven. “Teaching computer science creates a pathway to jobs, addressing one of the fundamental needs of a community of more than 60,000 refugees in the State of Utah.”

A card writing program, with the IRC’s Job Club, provides professional skills training to newly arrived refugees. Cotopaxi's program is designed to provide supplemental income for refugees while creating a unique and powerful experience for customers. Participants produce thank you notes included with all Cotopaxi orders and are written by refugees from Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Congo, Thailand, Nepal and North Korea. The Card Writing Program offers IRC participants the opportunity to gain professional experience working with Cotopaxi as Customer Experience Assistants, while also participating in volunteer-led job readiness training. Participants are compensated for their time and effort, providing an important source of income as they integrate into their new communities and seek full-time employment.

Cotopaxi’s impact mission sums things up well: “We create innovative outdoor products and experiences that fund sustainable poverty alleviation, move people to do good, and inspire adventure. Cotopaxi funds solutions that address the most persistent needs of those living in extreme poverty. Giving is core to our model. As a Delaware Public Benefit Corporation, Cotopaxi has made a commitment to creating positive social impact. We focus our efforts on global poverty alleviation and give targeted grants to advance health, education and livelihoods initiatives around the world.“ We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

Utah Woolen Mills
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Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest ones, and Utah Woolen Mill’s “Suited For Good” program is one of the best ideas we’ve seen. For every men's suit Utah Woolen Mills sells, they will tailor and donate a suit to an individual who is committed to improving their life for the better. Launched just this past December, Utah Woolen Mills has already outfitted 50 men who have fallen on hard times—many of whom were experiencing homelessness.

The program, is “not about the suit; it’s about the person inside,” says fifth-generation owner BJ Stringham. In business for more than 110 years in Salt Lake City, Utah Woolen Mills has, “had many obstacles to overcome and can relate to these rebuilding individuals.” Stringham was able to rely on his company’s tradition and customer base to leverage their status as long-standing community members into a successful service initiative.

Candidates can apply to take part in the program at suitedforgood.com, as well as nominate an individual or donate to the cause. The six-step process outfits a candidate with everything they need, from a suit and tie, to belt and shoes, as well as interviewing advice for the next step in their lives.

Has it been successful? A quick click on the “Success Stories” on the website answers a resounding “yes”. There’s Craig Carter, who saw the program as not just a suit for an interview, but how the entire opportunity “represents a new beginning—it represents hope.” Or there is Jon Boss, a disabled veteran, who found “courage to stand with society in the ranks knowing I am a professional.” And Wade Pollock, a construction laborer who suffered a near-death car accident, leaving him with several major injuries. Despite a learning disability, Wade’s goal is to attend business school for a career in management. He wears his first suit since he was 12 years old with pride. “You wear it with your head held high, and not down,” he says in one of the moving short videos Utah Woolen Mill’s has posted.

Even Stevens
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Perhaps we should have rearranged this story and spoke earlier about Even Stevens, as it was their philosophy of donating a sandwich to a local nonprofit working to end hunger, for each one it sells, that resonated with BJ Stringham of Utah Woolen Mills and launching their suit program. Statistics show 1 in 8 Americans are food insecure, a problem both systematic and complex. But Even Stevens is taking a bite out of the problem’ pun intended.

Beginning in 2014, for every sandwich purchased at any of their 10 locations, ranging from Boise to Tempe, Even Stevens promises to donate another sandwich. After donating over 30,000 sandwiches to Salt Lake area non-profits in their first 6 months – Even Stevens knew we were on to something.

Here’s how they do it:
At the end of every month, they tally sandwich sales. Funds for sandwich making ingredients - bread, meat, cheese and produce -are then placed into a Sysco food account where non-profit partners access the account and order sandwich-making ingredients as they need. A few days later, a truck delivers the order to their doorstep: Free of charge. Then, the non-profit staff and volunteers build sandwiches.

Beyond simply handing out sandwiches, these donations allow local non-profits to save cash. Where resources would normally go towards food purchases, they instead go to transitional programs – shelter, resume building, legal assistance, and more. In this way, the sandwiches Even Stevens gives back to each community are an investment in that community’s growth and well-being.