The word “joy” is associated with a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. Many of us experience some kind of joy as we go through our daily lives. But for many who experience hunger or health issues, joy can be an elusive feeling.

The Joy in Childhood Foundation (JICF), powered by Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins, was founded in 2006 as a 501(c)3 organization with a mission of providing the simple joys of childhood to kids dealing with hunger or illness. The organization partners with two national organizations – Feeding America for hunger relief, and Starlight Children’s Foundation for hospitalized children and their families – to make an impact across the country.

The partnership with Feeding America is 10 years strong and helps to support local food pantries, food banks, and other organizations that serve children and their families struggling with hunger. In 2018 alone, it provided more than 4.8 million meals to children and families through Feeding America grants.

This is critical because childhood hunger is a growing issue in the United States. According to Feeding America, more than 12 million children are facing hunger and don’t know where their next meal will come from. For these kids, getting the food they need for the energy they need to learn and grow can be a challenge.

By providing support in their local communities through organized fundraising and volunteer events with JICF, Dunkin’ franchise owners and brand employees are striving to make that challenge a little less daunting.

A week of sharing joy

In 2014, JICF made its first $1 million gift to Feeding America, a huge milestone. Still, they wanted more. The foundation established a goal to activate Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins franchisees and crew members to roll up their sleeves and work in the trenches so they could experience JICF’s mission and see the effects of that work first-hand.

The Week of Joy is an annual national volunteer event during which Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins franchisees, crew members and brand employees volunteer at Feeding America member food banks and food pantries from coast to coast.

2019 marked the fifth year for the event and it was the biggest yet. During the week of March 18, more than 2,200 Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins folks participated in 100 Week of Joy events across the country, logging 13,000 volunteer hours.

Volunteers provided extra manpower at food banks and food pantries. They packed and unpacked boxes of produce, assembled backpacks of food for kids to take home over the weekend, cooked meals for families in need, and more.

One of those volunteers was Victor Carvalho, who is co-chair of the foundation’s Northeast Chapter. Carvalho and his brother Octavio own 10 Dunkin’ restaurants including the original Dunkin’ location in Quincy, Mass. He told Independent Joe he looks forward to participating in the Week of Joy every year. “It just feels good,” he says. “It brings me joy.”

This year, Carvalho participated in three Week of Joy events around the northeast and noted that those events alone packed enough food to keep families fed through May.

“It’s an enriching program,” Carvalho continues. “I love working shoulder to shoulder with other franchisees, crew members and brand folks. You form a bond with them, and it’s very powerful to work hard together and see the impact of that work.”

Making an impact through action

Making the Week of Joy a powerful experience for all who participate takes plenty of planning, support and action. JICF issues a call for team leaders a few months before the events take place. Leaders, who can be franchisees or brand employees, are tasked with planning a volunteer event in their area. They are provided with all the tools and support they need so that leaders are comfortable reaching out to the local food bank, recruiting volunteers, ordering t-shirts and having a successful event.

Carvalho has led his Week of Joy team in the Boston area for five years. He recruits as many of his 150 employees as possible to be part of the effort, asking each employee to consider participating in a Week of Joy event at least once.

“The Week of Joy is a great experience, and one that is particularly powerful to experience with your team members,” Carvalho says. “I ask [them to] try it so they can see and experience how we are making an impact in our community,” suggesting once someone tries it, they’ll be back for the next Week of Joy, “because it’s such a powerful and fun event.”

Along with the event he planned this year, Carvalho also participated and supported other events in his region. He helped in a variety of ways, from getting sponsors to getting volunteers.

“It’s an easy event to cheerlead for,” he says. “I enjoy working side by side with other folks. Sometimes we’re working with volunteers from other organizations, outside of Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins, so that’s neat, too.”

His official position aside, Carvalho’s opinions are widely shared. Feedback from those who participate is consistently positive. Franchisees report feeling energized about the time they get to spend with one another and satisfied about the efforts to provide real assistance to their communities. Comments often include the benefit of bonding with their teams outside of the restaurant.

For Carvalho, he’d like to see a Week of Joy take place more than once a year, and he’s currently working with the foundation to plan a Northeast Chapter Week of Joy event in the fall.

Time, Money and More

In addition to volunteering their time, many franchisees took part in grant presentations during the Week of Joy.

In 2017, JICF made a commitment to provide Feeding America $1.5 million in funding over three years. The foundation presented the Year 3 grant to Feeding America, which will help support 19 new food banks across the country.

The Joy in Childhood Foundation urges franchisees to nominate local nonprofit organizations they care about to apply for a grant from the Foundation.

Coming off the heels of this year’s event, plans are already in the works for 2020. The goal is to build on the momentum
and make the next one even bigger. Carvalho thinks that’s an attainable goal.

“The bonds that are created during the Week of Joy are unbreakable,” he says. “For me, the real joy comes from knowing that our actions together make a real difference.”