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Local retailer lets shoppers decide grant recipients

CARDIFF BY THE SEA — During the month of March, the public got to decide which environmental groups would benefit from the ever-popular Voice your Choice program at the local Patagonia store.
“It’s a great way to engage the public,” Assistant Store Manager Jon Peck said. “We got to help raise some environmental awareness and give our customers a chance to decide where they wanted the money to go.”
Patagonia’s Voice your Choice campaign was conceived to encourage store customers to become better informed and more involved with environmental efforts in their communities. For instance, the Cardiff Patagonia store has worked closely with area groups to advocated for the recently passed Marine Life Protection Act that preserves several areas off the local coast.
When the votes were tallied on March 31, San Diego Coastkeeper received first place for a total of $2,500 in grant funds followed by Victory Gardens of San Diego with $1,500 and the San Diego River Park Foundation won $1,000.
The campaign is carried out nationwide with customers at Patagonia’s 27 North American stores helping to determine the spending of the company’s environmental grants budgets.
Once a year, each store receives $5,000 through Voice your Choice to be divided among three pre-selected environmental groups. Representatives from each group visit the store to talk about their efforts. Store customers then vote for the group whose work resonated most with them.
Patagonia is a solid partner according to San Diego Coastkeeper Development Coordinator Megan Baehrens. “They are another entity sounding the environmental horn,” she said. While the funds were a welcome financial resource, Baehrens said the access to customers was also beneficial. “It was incredible to see the response from people who came into the store when we were there to give out information about Coastkeeper,” she said. “The employees were all so enthusiastic, too.”
In 2009, customers cast 11,632 votes at all of the participating stores — a degree of participation that reinforces the company’s conviction that its customers care deeply about environmental issues and appreciate the opportunity to get involved, Peck said. “So many people voted here,” he said. “We had regular customers and people just coming into the shop off the street to see what it was all about.”
The additional financial resources were icing on the cake for the San Diego River Park Foundation. As the relatively small nonprofit that encourages environmental stewardship of the entire San Diego river watershed, the new relationship with Patagonia represents something greater than money alone. “We really loved how supportive people were of our cause,” Sarah Hutmacher said.
The $135,000 that’s allocated to Voice Your Choice represents only part of what Patagonia stores distribute annually within their respective communities. “It’s a supplement to our regular, corporate grant program,” Peck said. Patagonia’s overall environmental giving in fiscal year 2010 amounted to $3.44 million in grants and in-kind services according to the company’s annual report.