Kelly Stevens watched as the children raced toward the playground, arms outstretched and giggling with joy. They jumped on the swings, climbed onto the see-saw and quickly formed a line 15 kids long for a chance at the slide.
But this was no ordinary playground, or typical group of kids. Stevens was in a remote village in India, with a group of fellow Whole Foods Market team members who had just spent a week building this playground at an orphanage that is home to more than a hundred children.
The team had traveled to India as a project of Whole Planet Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Whole Foods with a mission to assist the poor in developing-world communities. Stevens and her colleagues partnered with Austin's The Miracle Foundation, which manages and supports the orphanage that provides a home, housemothers, education, nutritious food and medical care to children who have no other parents.
"The playground we built is an awesome assortment of swings, a slide, badminton court and teeter totter," Stevens says, "all born from hard work, dirt and buckets of sweat with my fellow teammates, to whom I also grew very close." She was amazed at the way the children stood by patiently during the construction of the playground, seeing it each day and certainly tempted, but obeying instructions to stay off until it was complete. Once it was, however, the party started. Even the housemothers took a turn down the slide.
Stevens enjoyed not only her experiences with the kids, but also with her Whole Planet team members. "Each night we ate amazing meals together and talking about the day, exhausted and sinking into deep sleep each night, proud of the day's accomplishments." At the end of the trip, one of the girls approached Stevens and placed a hand over her heart.
"You will always be felt here," the girl said. "You are like a sister to all of us." Stevens adds that she couldn't have said it better herself; she left India with an experience and memories that will last a lifetime, and the reward of knowing what an improvement the Whole Planet Foundation's volunteer trip to The Miracle Foundation orphanage had made in the lives of those children. After eight days at the orphanage, the WPH team visited Indian micro-credit clients, along with Whole Foods partners such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Seventh Generation and others.
Im just the past year, Whole Planet Foundation has doubled the number of countries where it supports poor entrepreneurs with microcredit. In addition to India, WPF works in 47 other countries including Brazil, Tanzania, China, Afghanistan, Burundi and Indonesia. It also has several U.S. programs in Indianapolis, Omaha and Detroit, in partnership with Grameen America.
"Whole Foods Market has long been committed to giving back to the communities where they do business," says Lauren Evans, Marketing and Outreach Specialist. "Whole Foods Market launched the nonprofit Whole Planet Foundation in 2005 to take that mission globally, empowering the poor in developing-world communities where its stores source products to lift themselves out of poverty through microcredit loans."
WPF chose the microcredit model because rather than just a hand-out, micro-lending sparks change by providing the poor with a viable chance to lift themselves out of poverty through their own hard work and ingenuity. "Simply put, the impact of a handout is short-lived, but the power of a helping hand is infinite," Evans says. Whole Foods Market covers all the operating expenses for its foundation, so 100 percent of its fundraising dollars go directly to the projects and recipients.
In just five, short years, Whole Planet Foundation has helped more than 177,100 poor entrepreneurs in 48 countries to improve their own lives through microcredit, positively impacting more than million people worldwide. To date, the nonprofit has funded more than $15 million and committed more than $26 million to fund micro-lending programs. Evans adds that there’s no limit on how much each one of those dollars will pay forward, as these entrepreneurs effect change in their own families and entire communities.
On a personal level, working for WPF has given Evans a new zest for life. "I have been given the amazing opportunity to witness the effects of microcredit first hand and to meet the very people who benefit from WPF-funded microloans. The creative energy of our microcredit clients empowers them to lift themselves and their families out of poverty in a sustainable way, and being able to see how just $1 can make a difference in the lives of women and families all around the world is beyond inspiring."
Want to get involved? You don't have to travel to India to make an impact through Whole Foods. Check out these ways you can help this holiday season:
- Donate online at www.wholeplanetfoundation.org (all year long), and in stores during the annual five-week Prosperity Campaign in the spring (2012 dates: Feb. 22 to March 31)
- Pick up a Whole Planet Foundation 2012 Calendar. All $3 from each purchase goes to fund micro-lending programs, and each calendar packs more than $20 worth of coupons for natural and organic products at Whole Foods Market.
- Create your personalized donation profile online, and invite friends and family to help raise $200 (average amount of a full loan) or more.
- Purchase Whole Trade™products. A percentage of the retail sale of some Whole Trade products goes directly to the Foundation to fund micro-lending projects
- Take advantage of local Whole Foods Market store’s interactive fundraising events throughout the year. Check your store’s calendar of events for garage sales, charity races, donation drives, etc.
- Purchase a Whole Planet Foundation gift card. A $1 donation is added to the face value of each card purchased.
"I think that most of the amazing work that Austin-based Whole Foods Market does to support our global communities is often overlooked," Evans says. "I am excited to dedicate my energy and hard work to change that, and to make an even greater impact."