The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines joy as “a source or cause of delight.”

There is no doubt that the Joy In Childhood Foundation is just such a fountain of delight for youngsters across America and around the world who benefit from the generosity of Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owners. Formerly known as The Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins Community Foundation (DDBRCF), the Foundation re-branded last year in an effort to bring focus to its mission of supporting local and national charities dedicated to making children’s lives happier and fuller. In 2016, the Foundation raised over $4.3 million.

“The Foundation was created in response to Hurricane Katrina, to serve those who serve others, especially in a time of crisis” says Alex Fernandez, who operates a network of Dunkin’ Donuts shops in central Florida and sits on the Joy In Childhood Foundation’s board of directors. “Last year, the new name was launched, to give more emphasis on what the Foundation does, [to] bring the joy of childhood to sick and hungry kids.”

“We often think that childhood is defined by joyful, carefree moments and innocence,” says Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee Alex Smilgelski, who is Co-Chair of the Foundation board. “However, children facing health and hunger issues experience a very different reality. It’s difficult to feel joy when you’re sick or hungry. That’s why when we thought about how we wanted to focus on bringing the simple joys of childhood to sick and hungry kids, the name – the Joy in Childhood Foundation – was organic and fit our mission and what we hope for.”

In addition to supporting two main national charities – the Starlight Children’s Foundation and Feeding America – Joy In Childhood also empowers franchisees to raise money for charities that impact their local communities. 

Among those who have been so empowered is Monica Lordelo MacFarlane, who got her start in the Dunkin’ system at age 10  helping finish donuts at her mother’s Dunkin’ Donuts in Holbrook, Massachusetts. Today she, her sister and their mother run four shops and MacFarlane admits that “coffee is running through my veins.”

Several years ago, MacFarlane started hosting local blood drives to benefit her community. Later, as she got involved with the Foundation, the fundraisers became bigger and better coordinated. This year, through the efforts of MacFarlane and other area franchise owners, the Northeast Chapter raised $250 thousand for Boston Children’s Hospital. 

“It started out small. Every year, it keeps growing. I think our guests appreciate when we’re raising and spending money for something that they also believe in. It’s a win-win,” and MacFarlane says she plans on continuing the annual effort going forward. “We love doing it, and the guests love that we do it.”

For the 2017 fundraiser, MacFarlane and other participating franchises distributed stickers for a $1 dollar donation. The decals were hung in shop windows. Customers who donated received a hand-made thank you note, drawn by a nine-year-old artist named Tyler, who is a long-time patient at Boston Children’s Hospital. 

“We got to spend some time with the kids at Children’s,” MacFarlane says. “Doing decorations in the hospital and packing up some Munchkin boxes. It’s nice for Children’s to have these kinds of [fun] programs for the kids. It’s good for the parents too. They have nice family rooms where everyone can unwind and have fun. That’s what we hope for – to make them happier.”

The Starlight Children’s Foundation provides support and assistance to chronically and terminally ill or injured children in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. The charity focuses on making children’s hospitals brighter and happier places with “fun centers,” which include art, music and recreational activities. The “Starlight Brave Gowns” program provides children with comfortable and colorful sterile gowns to wear during hospital visits. 

The growth in funding and support has been remarkable. In 2008, the DDBRCF raised $29,000 in just one event, according to Fernandez. In 2016, that amount grew to $4.3 million nationwide.

On March 30, 2017, Joy In Childhood announced a three-year, $3 million annual commitment to the Starlight Children’s Foundation and Feeding America at an event in Chicago.

“The Joy in Childhood Foundation is bringing joy and comfort to hospitalized kids and their families,” Starlight Children’s Foundation CEO Chris Helfrich said in a press release.

“We’re not just in the business to make money, we’re also in business to give back,” says Olga Pithis, who runs three Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in Boston with her husband Steven. “We love doing it and we love getting involved in the community.”

As a member of the Northeast Chapter, Pithis works with a committee to decide how their group will allot its local funds. Owners reach out to charity groups in their area and take proposals for worthy causes. Among the chapter’s recipients are the Acord Food Pantry, in Hamilton, Mass., the Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island Make-A-Wish Foundations and the Hole In the Wall Gang Camp in New Haven, CT. 

According to Pithis, her chapter distributed $241,000 during its spring grant cycle.

“Just raising money and giving it to where it’s needed,” she says. “It makes you more aware of your surroundings, more aware of finding the people who need it. Sometimes, we can be in our own little bubble, with your list of all the things you need to do. This makes you think about what is happening around you.”

Fernandez’s Southeast Chapter works closely with St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa. In 2012 alone, that chapter donated $162,000 to St. Joseph’s, which has been recognized for its outstanding pediatric heart and cancer care. In addition to treating more children than any other hospital in the area, they also feature a 24-hour Emergency/Trauma Center for Children.

A big focus for the Foundation is keeping the cost of fundraising down, so a greater share of the money raised goes directly to the charities.

“93 percent of the money raised was given back, very little expenses. That’s very important,” says Fernandez. “Last year in Tampa, we had a dinner and golf event that raised $150 thousand,” Fernandez says. “And an event at a private home in Naples that raised $36 thousand in just one night.”

Fundraising events come in all shapes and sizes. One of the Northeast Chapter’s biggest annual events is its Gala Dinner (and auction) in January, but they also host a Lobsterbake in Maine. The Central East Chapter hosts a big annual WhirlyBall Tournament in Illinois in which players drive around in electric bumper cars, scooping up a whiffle ball and trying to work it up the court until they can shoot it into a goal.

“You put all these events together and that’s how you get to $4.3 million nationwide,” Fernandez says.

But it’s not all fun and games. The mission is absolutely serious and focused.

One of the biggest and most important events the Joy In Childhood Foundation supports is a donation of time and work. In connection with Feeding America, franchises are asked to work to assist food pantries across the nation.

“One week a year, we ask franchises and their employees to participate in assisting food banks across the country,” Fernandez says. “Last year there were over 70 different volunteer events at food banks that we partnered with.”

The volunteers work locally to aide food banks in organizing and distributing their donated food products. They sort donated goods by date and help getting the food out the door and into the pantries of those who need it most.

“The amount of food that comes in from all over is amazing,” Pithis says. “We spent all day one day just working on organizing the bread.”

“I went last year with some of our managers, some of our employees,” Fernandez says. “Just donating our time so that they can store and distribute the food properly. To me, it was mind-boggling, the amount of food that was donated. From restaurants, grocery stores . . . Entire warehouses of food. By us going out there, it is a good way to get that food out into the community.”

It is one way Feeding America provides food to more than 46 million people through 60,000 food pantries and meal programs across the country. And it is another way Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owners derive joy from giving back and supporting those in need.