Open Pantry, which operates seven stores in Wisconsin, participated in and sponsored a walk to raise funds for multiple sclerosis (MS) on May 7 in Milwaukee, its team walking under the “Eunice Jean Open Pantry Team” banner.
“So, the reason that Open Pantry got involved in this is my mother, Eunice Buhler. When I was young, my mother had MS, and she got it in her late 20s, early 30s,” said Robert Buhler, president and CEO of Open Pantry. “And it was pretty devastating.”
Buhler ended up on the national research group for MS, and when he bought Open Pantry from his father in 1997, he involved the company in the walk.
Originally walking in Racine, Wis., for eight years, the Open Pantry team then decided to participate in the larger Milwaukee walk.
“We have proudly contributed over a million dollars of value. That’s probably $600,000 of cash and at least $400,000 of vendor value,” Buhler said.
The Walk for MS
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society hosts walks nationwide to raise funds for MS research. On the May 7 walk in Milwaukee, Open Pantry was a sponsor and hosted a large booth ready for participants who were able to arrive as early as 8 a.m.
“We are generally the only kind of food provider. So in the morning we offer Open Pantry coffee. We kind of shout that out proudly. We also offer Grebe’s Bakery, Grebe’s crullers,” said Buhler.
Open Pantry also had snack bars from various vendors, as well as candy, juice, water, doughnuts and other snacks available for participants.
“So we’re the refreshment station and the kind of replenishment for a little bit of energy station,” Buhler continued.
There were two versions of the walk for participants: a one-mile route and a three-mile route.
“The really rewarding thing is many people with MS are at the walk, and many people with MS walk,” said Buhler.
Open Pantry fundraised at its stores by selling MS ‘sneakers,’ paper shoes with the customers’ names written on them. Each store used these sneakers to build a collage, such as a tree or snowflakes.
Just as important as the funds raised are the employee-customer interactions. Customers had a chance to share stories about their own experiences with MS and were invited to join the walk.
“And so a lot of our customers, our store managers and our store teams come down because they’ve been working so hard to raise the money,” said Buhler prior to the event. “So they bring their families down for the walk. And then a lot of customers come down for the walk because we’re making everyone aware of the walk.”
Every year, Open Pantry rolls out a new jacket or vest in January for its employees when each store receives its fundraising goal. Store teams get incentives each week to sell the sneakers.
“They all do a great job of it,” said Buhler, regarding store managers and associates selling the sneakers. “… Maybe they have someone in their family, maybe not, but they just kind of feel, ‘Hey, in life I can do something good for the world at my work, and I’m going to get behind this.’”
Each store had a different fundraising goal, the total funds raised reaching $40,000 this year.
“And the walk, as I say, it’s just so enjoyable to see, you know, you can see the result. You can see who you’re helping,” Buhler said.