By Christopher Munden
Craft beer pioneer Dock Street Brewery has been committed to local philanthropic efforts since it opened in the 1980s. “Paying it forward” is a codified, organized enterprise. It’s as much a part of Dock Street’s image, as its reputation for award-winning craft beer.
“One of the coolest things about our company is that this aspect of our work is important to everyone who works here,” says Sasha Certo-Ware, a brewer who handles marketing and sales for the brewery. “No one has the official title ‘community outreach coordinator’, because it’s something we’re all interested in.”
Most breweries will donate a few cases or a keg to a fundraiser, but Dock Street’s annual budget includes a spreadsheet’s worth of support for local organizations. After the beer maker opened its first brewpub in Center City, it began organizing annual winter coat drives and Thanksgiving food drives.
This spirit of community engagement intensified after it moved to the Cedar Point area of West Philadelphia a decade ago. “One thing that drew us to the area is how involved everyone is in the community – our customers and also our staff,” says Certo-Ware. “Most of our staff volunteer in local organizations, and we have a really low turnover, which helps us forge bonds with the community.”
For several years, a free, annual music festival solidified these bonds. Dock Street teamed up with neighboring non-profit Books Behind Bars to send dictionaries and reading material to prisoners. Last Christmas, the brewpub coordinated a toy drive with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They continue to sponsor events and fundraisers for nonprofit groups, focusing on those that benefit the West Philly community, on education and literacy or on LGBTQ and women’s rights.
In 2015, the brewery launched its biggest, most popular philanthropic effort to date: Rare Beer for School Supplies.
“A lot of our customers are teachers, so we would hear about all of the things local schools were lacking in the wake of budget cuts,” says Certo-Ware. Every week, he sits down to discuss brewery operations with the company’s major decision-makers, including his mother Rosemarie Certo (founder of the brewery), sister Renata (writer, website editor and marketing coordinator), VP Marilyn Candeloro and head brewer Mark Russell. At first, their thought was to dedicate a portion of bottle sales toward local schools. But teachers persuaded them that instead of donating cash to the schools, which could get lost in red tape or diverted to infrastructure needs, the most effective way to help students would be actual donations of school supplies.
In return for an 8 ounce pour from a keg of specially aged, rare beer, customers are invited to donate school supplies – pencils, books for classroom libraries or paper – which then go to West Philadelphia schools. “Every three months we’ll send truckloads of pencils and reams of paper to a school,” exclaims Certo-Ware.
This fall, Dock Street collaborated with Mighty Writers, which mentors 2,500 kids across Philadelphia in after-school writing programs, with a “text to donate” exchange: if you show the brewery that you donated to the nonprofit, you get a free pour of a special brew.
The programs are good for business and good for the community. “It’s one of the ways we spread the word about our beers,” says Certo-Ware. When Dock Street announced plans to launch its own cannery, one of the first things that came to mind was a “cans for cans” food drive. “We like to do something positive with our marketing,” he says. “We don’t help anyone by taking out a billboard or a magazine ad.”
The brewery’s commitment to the wider world also extends to reducing their carbon footprint. When possible, Dock Street uses locally-sourced ingredients; spent grain goes to local farmers and composters; and the company announced plans to use 100% wind energy for all of its operations.
Dock Street’s lights may be powered by wind, but the brewery itself is powered by a huge, kind heart.