Head about 30 miles west of Philadelphia, and you’ll reach the unincorporated Delaware County community of Wawa. It’s been said that “No one’s ever drawn a line on a map saying this is where Wawa begins and ends,” and that “Wawa is a state of mind—if you want to be in Wawa, you can be in Wawa.” But despite its obscure boundaries, the Wawa Foundation is confident in its support for the Greater Philadelphia area.
Last summer, we published a piece about how this East Coast chain of convenience stores was approaching philanthropy in a really interesting way. With its Hero Awards, Wawa recognizes local nonprofits by reaching out to the community for input and by way of crowdsourcing.
Well, this year wasn’t much different, as it selected four finalists for Hero Awards and submitted them for public vote. The four organizations were chosen from a pool of 125 submissions; all are in the Greater Philadelphia area. Crowdsourcing philanthropy has its pros and cons, but it seems to be helping this particular foundation gain prominence on the local funding scene and get to know a wide range of nonprofits in the area.
Operation Yellow Ribbon South Jersey ultimately won the big award of $50,000 for its support of U.S. Military Forces serving in the Middle East through donated supplies to troops and organizing welcome home events for area veterans. The other three finalists received $10,000 each. One of them was Emily’s Entourage, which works in the area of cystic fibrosis research. Lighthouse Inc. provides educational, recreational, and economic programs in North Philadelphia, and West Philadelphia Alliance for Children also received a finalist grant for its childhood literacy work.
Although Wawa is leaving this nonprofit choice up to the general public, the final approval is given by a foundation panel. The foundation received over 10,000 votes as part of this grantmaking effort. The annual tradition is to announce the award in front of Independence Hall on the fourth of July as part of a morning ceremony. As an extension of its more traditional grantmaking program, this award is creating a lot of public exposure—always a win-win for a foundation with corporate backing.
But while these Hero Awards stay close to home in the Philadelphia area, not all Wawa Foundation grants do. The foundation supports groups based all over the company’s service area, which includes the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Florida. Across these six states, Wawa supports over 1,000 organizations with more than $2.5 million. Local community sponsorships for things like charity walks and community events have been awarded to at least 265 organizations totaling $665,859.
Health, hunger, and everyday heroes are this foundation’s top areas of interest. Even with other cities and states in the mix, Philadelphia groups still have a great opportunity to catch this corporate funder’s attention. Submission windows for grants over $2,500 typically fall in January, April, July, and October. Meanwhile, requests of less than $2,500 are considered on an ongoing basis with a response time of about a month.