As many now know, the charitable arm of Baskin-Robbins' parent company ended its five-year relationship with the firefighting community. And that news has drawn a range of strong comments from personal boycotts to expressions of gratitude.
To recap, the company held 31-cent scoop nights each April where many fire departments displayed apparatus and allowed personnel to work behind the counter at local affiliates. Some departments, like mine, set out boots to raise money for the department.
On the local level, it was great public relations and the few hundred dollars raised was OK, too. But the real money came from Baskin-Robbins' donations.
According to a company spokesman, Baskin-Robbins had donated nearly $1 million over the course of the five years. The money was shared between the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, The National Volunteer Fire Council and actor Dennis Leary's Leary Firefighters Foundation.
One million bucks over five years is a lot of money.
It is my firmly held belief that individuals and business entities have a moral obligation to give back for the betterment of mankind. So I applaud the company for living up to that obligation. I further applaud them for doing so outside their immediate area of business — one expects those making money from an industry to give back to it; Baskin-Robbins makes ice cream, not SCBA or apparatus.
This year, Baskin-Robbins will donate money to a charity that aims to reduce domestic hunger. By all accounts this is a laudable effort and one that brings their donations closer to their core business.
And while I don't believe much good will come of debating the merits of helping firefighters vs. feeding the hungry, I am disappointed in Baskin-Robbins' decision.
The marketing that led up to the one-night event as well as the event itself was a substantial public relations payout — both locally and nationally. It was a terrific chance for fire departments to interact with their communities where there were no life-and-property emergencies or heated budget battles.
It will be difficult for the fire service to replace the good work that the donated money enabled and the goodwill that the public relations fostered. But, replace it we must. On this front, we have two things going for us.
The first is that the scoop nights were successful and should serve to attract another big-name company to fill that void (Hello, hello? Dairy Queen, can you hear me?). The second is that Baskin-Robbins makes its charitable decisions on a year-to-year basis.
As individual firefighters we may not have much impact on finding a replacement, but we can certainly try to influence Baskin-Robbins' future donations.
To those who are angry over the shift in donations, I urge you to steer away from hurtful remarks and calls for boycotts. Instead, channel that energy into asking the company to reallocate funds back to the fire community.
To those who are grateful for the company's past donations, I urge you to tell them so. Relate stories of your scoop nights, highlighting the real impacts they had on your community and your fire department.
The fire service has been dealt a substantial set back. But it is one that can be overcome by showing potential donors our true character.
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