Volume 47, Number 11
Written By: Carol Neshevich
[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hen temperatures rise and the sun starts shining brighter, A&W employees and franchisees across Canada know it’s time to enthusiastically ramp up their fundraising efforts for the MS Society of Canada. Every summer, A&W restaurant operators raise money and awareness for the chain’s charitable partner.
While many A&W operators raise money for MS research throughout the year at local events such as barbecues or bake sales, employees at each of the chain’s approximately 835 locations begin heavily promoting MS fundraising in early July. Donations are accepted via a collection mug on the counter (an A&W root-beer mug), and customers are also encouraged to purchase paper “cut-outs” on which they can write their names and stick them up on the walls and windows of the restaurant to increase awareness. The MS fundraising efforts culminate on one Thursday in August called Cruisin’ to End MS Day, when $1 from every Teen Burger goes to the MS Society. “The cruisin’ part comes from the drive-in days of A&W, when you’d cruise along in your car and get a drive-in meal,” explains Tom Newitt, senior director of Marketing and Brand Communications for Vancouver-based A&W Food Services of Canada Inc.
The event began in 2009, and the chain has raised more than $6 million for MS since then. In 2014 alone, A&W raised $1.45 million for the cause. “It’s a beautiful program,” says Owen Charters, chief marketing and development officer for the Toronto-based MS Society of Canada. “It’s great to have a corporate partner that can be a true partner … a partner who understands that it’s not just about checking off a task list that says ‘do something for charity.’ We get very hands-on involvement from A&W, all the way from the president down. It’s as though the employees of A&W become employees of the MS Society [during the Cruisin’ to End MS campaign], and everyone is working so hard to raise awareness. It’s much more than we could ever do on our own.”
According to Newitt, the idea came from the franchisees themselves. “They chose to work with the MS Society, which is a fabulous choice,” he says, explaining that the disease has a particularly strong Canadian connection, as the nation currently has the highest rate of MS in the world, with an estimated 100,000 living with the illness. “What that means is that quite often, there’s someone in every A&W restaurant — whether it’s someone working there or a guest — who either has MS or knows somebody with MS or is affected by MS in some way,” explains Newitt.
While MS is the main focus of A&W’s charitable work Canada-wide, each franchise typically also supports its own individual causes. “For us at the home office, it’s very inspiring to see the work that they do in the community,” says Newitt. This includes everything from involvement with local sports teams to local children’s charities to seniors’ organizations and homeless shelters.
Looking ahead, A&W will keep encouraging individual franchisees to foster community involvement and will also continue to expand on its work with the MS Society. “Their mission is to end MS, and they haven’t done that yet,” adds Newitt. “They’re investing heavily in research, so we are very supportive of helping them one day find a cure.”
Every year, at Toronto’s Top Management Gala and Dinner, F&H honours a company with the Hans Bueschkens Award of Merit for leadership in community outreach. This year’s accolade will be presented to A&W Feb. 12.