10 Years of 19 Days of Norwich and the Valley
In November 2013 a customer walked into Dan and Whit’s General Store in Norwich to purchase items for the food shelf at the Upper Valley Haven because the shelves were lacking one crucial ingredient: food. This did not sit well with Dan Fraser who was used to seeing stocked shelves and fulfilled shoppers as the owner of Dan & Whit’s, so he decided to match the purchase and double the food donated to the Haven on that day.
He also decided to do something more. One percent more. After looking at models of giving from businesses like Ben & Jerry’s and Newman’s Own, Fraser decided that for the first 19 days of December Dan & Whit’s would donate one percent of its sales to the Haven.
“I knew about the Haven but wasn’t closely connected to them,” Fraser said. “And yet when this customer came in that first year, I just thought it was a natural pairing. We sell food and they need food. We should be doing something since we don’t have a food shelf in Norwich. This is the one for the Upper Valley. We should be doing something to support them. It was a natural match that has continued on.”
The idea was well received by customers as it was a way to support local while also supporting a local charity. Fraser – along with a small group of volunteers known as “The Angels” – began recruiting other businesses to also give one percent of its sales to the Haven. Yellow 19 Days signs designating participants popped up in windows around Norwich.
“We reached out to other businesses and organizations in the Upper Valley – starting in Norwich – to see if they wanted to do the same thing. It sort of snowballed out of control in a positive way. There’s no paperwork; it’s totally the honor system… It’s more like, ‘you do whatever works for you.’ Do you want to donate one percent of everything? Do you want to donate one percent of just your Vermont books? Or just your meals? Or your rooms? Or whatever it is.”
In the first year, 19 Days of the Valley raised a little over $27,000 for the Haven. In its second year, with more businesses and customer support, as well as a generous matching gift from the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, they raised over $230,000. Last year, 19 Days eclipsed the $500,000 mark for the first time. Overall, 19 Days has raised over $2.5 million for the Haven and is its largest yearly fundraiser.
“One percent isn’t a lot, but put together, it’s huge,” Fraser said. “What we realized was whether you’re King Arthur Flour or Diane’s Casual Cuts, one percent is the same for each of you. It really leveled the playing field in an interesting way. Everybody in the community really really supported it and it helped people think about keeping their money in the local economy, rather than going online or somewhere else.”
Entering its 10th year, 19 Days of the Valley has expanded beyond the Norwich borders consisting of 44 area businesses and has grown to include other events, such as a pancake breakfast, grilled cheese lunches, wine tastings, petting zoos, best pet contests, and even the Battle of Beauticians, which has since become the Bonding of Beauticians. However, like most things, the pandemic changed what events could continue as part of the 19 Days’ lineup, and in 2022, some events are still to be determined.
“We’re trying to figure out how to either go forward with things like [the pancake breakfast], while also having a backup plan if we need to step back,” Fraser said. “It’s a little unknown this year. We’re not out of the woods with COVID yet. We’re going with the flow, seeing what happens, and what’s going to work, and it may be a last-minute thing, but that’s okay.”
There have been some changes in the last few years to 19 Days, but the mission to support local to lift the entire community up remains resolute.
“The nonprofits that we have here support the weakest members of our community, and that’s important to do, to be that safety network,” Fraser said. “When you bring everyone up a level, it helps the whole community be stronger. There’s a lot of support for the nonprofits here, and there’s a lot of people that really do value – especially after the pandemic and seeing how supply chain issues were a problem – smaller, local places, as opposed to ordering something online from China. People are being more conscientious about their decisions than they were pre-pandemic because they saw complete main streets that were wiped out. The only places that were left were chain stores, or empty store fronts and empty shopping malls. This community’s residents really stepped up to do everything they could to support places that are independent, so that we have that flare, that character here.”
To learn more about 19 Days of the Valley and the Upper Valley Haven, visit https://uppervalleyhaven.org/events/19days/.