Giving in New Jersey takes many forms. One company provides free roofs to those in need. Another markets salsa made from damaged fruit and supports hunger relief with the proceeds. Others grant millions for community development. The level of commitment was evident when New Jersey Monthly honored 10 companies at the inaugural Great Oak Awards dinner, September 30 at the Palace at Somerset Park.
The Great Oak Awards stemmed from New Jersey Monthly’s Seeds of Hope program, which for the past 10 years has acknowledged exceptional New Jersey volunteers. Likewise, the Great Oak Awards honor businesses that have strong Jersey roots and generously support charitable institutions and social causes. The 10 winners were selected from a pool of 56 finalists.
Keynote speaker Randal Pinkett, the founder, chairman and CEO of BCT Partners, a multimillion-dollar management and information-technology solutions firm based in Newark, praised the efforts of the finalists—and the individuals who make them exceptional.
“You send a message to people outside of New Jersey,” said Pinkett, the fourth-season winner of The Apprentice. “You say that here, we put people before profits, communities before cash and the less fortunate before fortune. That’s how we do it in New Jersey.”
The initial class of honorees was determined through a multistep process culminating in a judging session by our panel of philanthropy professionals. The judges were Hans Dekker, president of the Morristown-based Community Foundation of New Jersey; Dennis Miller, president of Denville-based Dennis C. Miller Associates; and Abby O’Neill, principal of Abby O’Neill Consulting LLC.
Each finalist was assigned to a category—small, medium and large—based on the size of its full-time New Jersey workforce.
Crest Savings Bank, Lowy’s Moving Service and Roof4Roof took top honors for small companies. AAA NJ Automobile Club, Campbell Soup Company, DCH Auto Group and OceanFirst Foundation/OceanFirst Bank were the winners among the state’s medium-sized firms. Bank of America, Prudential Financial and Wakefern Food Corporation were the large-company winners.
The awards dinner was preceded by a cocktail hour attended by Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. At the dinner, some 250 attendees heard about the accomplishments of the winning companies.
Wildwood-based Crest Savings Bank contributes to the Cape May County area through its support of events such as the Boardwalk Basketball Classic, a six-day tournament that raises scholarship money for graduating seniors at two local high schools.
Lowy’s Moving Service, based in Neptune, created Move for Hunger, a nationwide program that encourages customers to donate unopened, nonperishable food that would otherwise be thrown out during the moving process. Last year, the company collected approximately 90,000 pounds of food for food banks throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties.
“There’s nothing greater than helping people,” said company CEO Stephan Lowy. “I mean, why else are we here?”
Roof4Roof gives free roofing to a needy family each time a new roof is purchased from the Montclair-based company. Last year, it provided roofing to more than 100 families throughout the state as well as Pennsylvania and the nation of Colombia. Roofing also was provided for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillipines.
It’s only natural that AAA NJ Automobile Club should support programs related to automotive safety, but the company encourages a variety of laudable activities by its staff through its TEAM program. AAA employees have dedicated themselves to such worthwhile causes as Saint Elizabeth’s Coalition for the Homeless and the Hillside Community Foodbank.
Campbell Soup Company focuses much of its charitable giving on nutrition. Its Nourishing Our Neighbors Program is dedicated to reducing hunger and childhood obesity in its hometown of Camden by 50 percent.
As part of the program, a team of Campbell employees developed a peach salsa using discarded, blemished fruit from a South Jersey farm cooperative. The salsa is sold at local retail outlets, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefitting the Food Bank of South Jersey and its nine hunger-relief programs.
“Our overarching goal is to create a healthy community in Camden,” said Wendy Milanese, community affairs specialist at Campbell. “I’m routinely floored by the compassion and passion of our employees, who enthusiastically get out there to volunteer and support our corporate goal.”
South Amboy-based DCH Auto Group is dedicated to promoting safety among teen drivers. The chain of auto dealerships partners with S.A.D.D. (Students Against Destructive Driving) to help educate young drivers about being smart on the roads.
“Auto accidents are the biggest cause of teen death,” said DCH owner Shau-Wai Lam. “We feel like we can do something to prevent that.”
OceanFirst Foundation/OceanFirst Bank prides itself on being a good neighbor to the greater Ocean County area. That was never more apparent than after Hurricane Sandy. The foundation provided $500,000 in grants to aid local nonprofits and relief organizations.
Cranford-based Bank of America is one of the state’s most generous companies, with annual cash giving to New Jersey causes of more than $5.5 million. Its charitable efforts fall into three categories: workforce development and education; community development; and critical needs. Its Neighborhood Builders program helps identify and train emerging community leaders at high-performing nonprofits.
Prudential Financial Inc., based in Newark, is also highly generous, with cash giving approaching $20 million. It supports nonprofits focused on improving education outcomes for children and transforming neighborhoods into thriving, economically diverse communities.
“Our approach is to provide a variety of resources that best meet the needs of whoever we’re aiding, including grants, investments and the time and talent of our employees,” said Prudential’s Lata Reddy.
Wakefern Food Corporation—best known for its ShopRite stores—is a major combatant against hunger in New Jersey. Partners in Caring, Wakefern’s year-round program to fight hunger, provides nearly $2 million annually to New Jersey food banks.
The complete methodology of how we selcted the winners is explained here.
Check out the brief profiles of the 56 finalists on these pages. We know you’ll be moved by their achievements. (Cash giving and volunteer hours indicated for 2013 when available.)
How We Picked the Winners and Meet the Judges