Barbara Dobbins was getting ready to drive away after dropping off a packed SUV full of supplies at the Thurston County Food Bank when there was a knock at her car window. “It startled me, because I wasn’t expecting anyone,” she says. “It was one of the volunteers that has worked there for years. He made me get out of the car and give him a hug, which was super sweet. Everyone there is always really grateful.”
That gratitude stems from the substantial donations that come every holiday season from Bruce Titus Automotive Group, where Dobbins is the marketing manager. For the past eight years, the company has challenged employees and encouraged customers to help them fill one of their larger vehicles. “We load up a car on every sales floor and our goal is to pack it with food,” says Dobbins. “In Tacoma, that might be a Ford 150 but in Olympia, we have Jeeps and Nissan Frontiers.”
The event has become part of the company culture, one that staff and customers eagerly anticipate, she says. “We have a competition between the stores to see who can pull in the most donations. Salespeople are competitive, so they love it, which just helps bring in that much more.”
Of those donations, 70% come from employees. This year, they’ve been challenged to double whatever their highest total was in previous seasons. “At Nissan, the managers have committed to matching anything the employees bring in. If the staff wants to donate cash, they’ll match it and then send me out shopping,” says Dobbins.
Customers who donate are entered in a drawing, one entry for each item they bring in, with a grand prize of a $50 Costco card. “We give away around 20 prizes just to entice them to drop their food off with us rather than someplace else,” she explains. “There are always things like free oil changes or they might win a Jeep sweatshirt.”
The idea originated with founder Bruce Titus who is well-known for his philanthropy in the communities where his businesses operate including Tacoma and Olympia. “Bruce is very big on giving back,” says Dobbins. “The food drive started in Tacoma and we realized, ‘We need to do this at all of our stores.’”
The drive began during the last week of October and runs until just before Thanksgiving. At that point, Dobbins brings the vehicles to the local food bank. “I pull up and say, ‘We’re going to need some help.’ We pop the back open and the reaction is always, ‘Wow!’ It’s very sweet because, of course, the food bank is run by volunteers.”
Before delivery, Dobbins goes through the donated items and puts them in reusable bags which are also given to the food bank. “We usually drop another case of the bags off, which helps them with their distribution,” she explains.
And, the timing matters. Although many contributors are focused on feeding families for the holidays, the real need is more pressing, says Dobbins. “Many people don’t realize that these donations are about getting them through the entire winter. Food banks don’t get their commodities until March and most of them are gone by this time of the year. The food that comes in now helps people get through until the government commodities kick back in. These donations mean the food banks don’t have to dip into their cash reserves to buy food.”
For more information about Bruce Titus Automotive Group, visit www.brucetitus.com or call 360-754-5525.