Philanthropy by the pint
Kannah Creek beers go to work for nonprofits, community
For many, the drawing of a cold, crisp beer from a tap is its own cause for joy.
But when Kannah Creek brings out its Philanthropy Ale each summer or taps a firkin keg at a Firkin Fundraiser, the pleasure in a good glass of beer expands.
That’s because all profits from monthly Firkin Fundraiser beer sales go into the hands of local charities.
And Philanthropy Ale, on tap last week at Kannah Creek, 1960 N. 12th St., is a special beer: Pints poured mean money in the bank for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which receives the proceeds from all Philanthropy Ale sales.
This was Kannah Creek’s 12th year brewing and tapping Philanthropy Ale, and over that time they’ve raised more than $20,000 for the society.
Suzanne Reel, who directs Walk MS and has helped coordinate Kannah Creek’s fundraiser with the national multiple sclerosis organization, said that amount is no pittance.
“Ninety-seven percent of our revenue for the organization comes from fundraising, donations and individual giving,” she said.
While the money helps the organization provide regional and national support for those with multiple sclerosis — it also helps fund research that may one day eliminate multiple sclerosis — Reel said one of the most important impacts of local-level fundraisers, such as Kannah Creek’s Philanthropy Ale, is that they raise awareness of the disease within small towns and neighborhoods.
Nearly 450 people in Mesa County are living with multiple sclerosis, Reel said.
Kannah Creek founder Jim Jeffryes is one of them. His diagnosis with the disease in the 1990s is partly what influenced him to leave a high-pressure job in the high-tech industry and branch into beer-making.
But if you ask Jeffryes why he and the brewery’s co-owners are often found donating profits to good causes, he won’t say it’s just their big hearts and personal stories.
It’s in a large part a business decision, he said, sparked by a need to help his fledging brewery grow back in the late 2000s.
While it might be hard to believe today, considering Kannah Creek’s three Grand Valley restaurant locations and general ubiquity at a host of Grand Valley events and festivals, the brewery once struggled to stay alive, Jeffryes said.
Kannah Creek’s first fundraisers resulted from an effort to generate business by becoming more visible and enmeshed in the Grand Valley community.
In one of its earliest stabs at philanthropy, the brewery used the sale of beers from a firkin — this is a limited-edition keg of specially-flavored beer — to raise money for a local firefighter who was battling leukemia.
This one-time event evolved into the Firkin Fundraisers that take place at Kannah Creek on the first Monday of each month. The firkins have raised $38,602 for a variety of local charities since 2013, according to Kannah Creek.
One of these charities is the local branch of the organization Project Healing Waters, which helps rehabilitate veterans through fly fishing. Project Healing Waters benefitted from a Firkin Fundraiser this past March, raising about $800, said Crystal Woolen, program lead for the Grand Junction division of the project.
Project Healing Waters has no paid positions in the Grand Valley, so every small donation makes a big impact on her ability to buy fly- tying supplies and organize fishing trips for the veterans who partake, Woolen said.
“We’re grateful for whatever we get,” Woolen said. “That money is the difference between one or two vets participating at all.”
The next Firkin Fundraiser is scheduled for Aug. 7 and will support CASA of Mesa County, which finds, trains and supports volunteers who act as advocates for children in court.
This will be CASA’s second firkin, said Joy Thompson, CASA’s program director.
While the financial benefits of the fundraiser for CASA aren’t as significant as for some smaller, less-monied charity groups, Thompson said the firkins help CASA reach a younger demographic than that with which they typically interact.
Further, the intimacy and simplicity of the firkins make them a boon to CASA, because she doesn’t have to fill out piles of paperwork or spend time in multiple board meetings in order to set the fundraisers up, Thompson said.
“Kannah Creek has it down pat,” she said.
Nearly all Firkin Fundraisers are arranged on the volition of the charities, which contact Kannah Creek and ask to reserve a spot. The brewery said it already has every first Monday firkin booked through mid-2018.
While Philanthropy Ale and Firkin Fundraisers are two of Kannah Creek’s most substantial charitable initiatives, the business does a lot of other philanthropic work around town, too.
Kannah Creek throws a yearly fundraiser for KAFM, the Grand Valley’s community radio station, supports the Local Jam music festival, supports student athletes at Colorado Mesa University, donates beer to the Western Slope Open tennis tournament, and supplies discounted beer to the Garden Groove Concert Series at the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, which supports the nonprofit STRiVE and its children’s programs. And this is only a partial list.
But Jeffryes remains humble.
“We’re not superheroes,” he said, noting that the beer he gives away isn’t really free but is working hard for the company, creating the reputation of goodwill and community that helps Kannah Creek thrive.
When asked if Kannah Creek would curb its giving if the business began to struggle in the future, Jeffryes said no.
“It’s ingrained in our system,” Jeffryes said. He added that Kannah Creek isn’t unique. He sees most businesses in town doing their part to donate what they can to those in need.
“This town is awesome,” Jeffryes said. “They always want to support a good cause.”