Florence Savings awards $75,000 to 25 nonprofits

The bank’s Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program has been so popular that President John F. Heaps also announced the bank’s intention to award $100,000 through the program next year.

“We started out at $50,000, and a couple of years ago grew it to $75,000,” Heaps told about 130 people at an awards ceremony Wednesday. “But $75,000 just doesn’t seem like the right number.”

The program puts about one third of the bank’s charitable contributions each year up for a popular vote by allowing any account holder to nominate a local nonprofit to receive a share of the funds. While many banks are encouraged to give money to better the communities in which they operate, Florence Savings’ program is unique because it leaves the charitable giving decisions to its customers, said Monica Curhan, senior vice president and marketing director.

“We love letting the customer have a voice,” Curhan said. “A lot of banks give money but few ask the customers where they think the money should go.”

Florence Savings received 11,567 customer votes in 2013, a 21-percent increase over last year’s 9,574 votes, and 436 organization garnered at least one vote. Any group must receive at least 1 percent of the votes, or 115 votes this year, received a portion of the funds.

For the first time in the program’s history, three nonprofits received enough votes for a maximum $5,000 grant. Most years, only one organization gets enough votes to receive the maximum. The three are the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and Northampton High School’s Parent Teacher Organization.

The PTO will use its money towards a $16,000 project that aims to enhance technology in classrooms, according to an email Principal Bryan Lombardi sent to the school community.

“This is a significant contribution and will significantly help in reaching the final goal of the technology drive,” he wrote.

Florence Savings also distributed grants to libraries, hospitals, fire departments and several other schools.

The Northampton Survival Center, for example, will use its $4,567 to provide nutritional food for 10 weeks this summer to 600 children across Hampshire County and in the Hilltowns.

“Florence Savings Bank is allowing us to create a foundational program from which we can respond to families, and their vote of confidence means so much to us,” Heidi Nortonsmith, executive director of the Northampton Survival Center, said in a press release.

The Cancer Connection, meanwhile, will use its $3,555 to train 35 people who have been waiting for more than a year to learn how to volunteer to counsel patients diagnosed with cancer.

And this spring and fall, Grow Food Northampton, Inc., will use its $2,370 to bring as many as 20 classrooms of elementary children to the Northampton Community Farm so they can see how food is planted and harvested.

“We are incredibly grateful for the bank’s generosity and all the customers who demonstrate their loyalty,” Lilly Lombard, executive director of Grow Food Northampton, said in a press release. “Florence Savings Bank is a model for other banks in the community.”

Other recipients include Cooley Dickinson Hospital, which will use its $4,625 award to strengthen its health care programs and services, and the Chesterfield Fire Department, which landed a $1,996 grant to fund a project to install address numbers on houses in town.

Other groups to land grants include: Amherst Survival Center, $4,552; Friends of Forbes Library, $3,859; Friends of the Williamsburg Libraries, $3,310; Center for Human Development, $3,093; Lilly Library, $3,078; Northampton Council on Aging/Elder Vision, Inc., $2,804; Jackson Street School PTO, $2,226; Granby Free Public Library, $2,211; New Hingham Regional Elementary School PTO, $2,182; Granby Music Parents Association, $2,154; Hartsbrook School, $2,038; Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, $1,978; Easthampton Dollars for Scholars, $1,850; ServiceNet, Inc., $1,836; Granby Preschool, $1,821; Easthampton Elementary Schools PTO, $1,792; and Bridge Street School PTO, $1,662.

Through the Customers’ Choice program, Florence Savings has disbursed $650,000 in charitable grants to 98 organizations since 2002.

“I look back on all of the past celebrations for this program, and it’s one of the best nights of the year for me,” Heaps said. “It’s an opportunity to look around and see a lot of people who are committed to doing good in the community.”

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