The impact of a good local beer festival can be felt far beyond the actual event time and space. How about providing feed veterinary care for horses at a local animal shelter, or advocating for victims of child abuse, or providing computers for children at a third world orphanage.
When you think of Huntington’s Rails & Ales Festival, you wouldn’t automatically connect it with such a diverse group of worthy causes, but it is. Through the festival’s donations for volunteers program, folks representing local nonprofit organizations have some fun pouring beer, while raising thousands of dollars for their groups. Last Saturday, charity volunteers earned a total of $10,000 in donations from Rails & Ales.
Here’s how it works. For each team of six volunteers that a nonprofit brought to the festival, Rails & Ales donated $500 to their organization. This year’s event had 20 teams, for a total of 120 nonprofit volunteers.
Huntington area organizations receiving donations from Rails & Ales included: One by One Animal Advocates, Little Victories Animal Rescue Shelter, Pony Express Basketball Club, INTO Marshall University, Team for WV Children, and Friends of Ironton.
Jessica Pressman, who is an organizer of the Rails & Ales festival, tells how this came about.
“One of our greatest challenges in running the festival is always recruiting enough volunteers to pour beer,” Pressman explains. “As the festival expands, so does our need for volunteers.
“At the same time, we realize that the success of the festival is dependent upon the support of the community, and we really wanted to give back to the city that’s been so good to us. There are many great community groups out there doing good work in Huntington, and so many of them are in need of donations, so it occurred to us that we could help each other.”
Local nonprofits raise funds for programs
Anastasia Shepherd, chairperson of INTO Marshall University, led a group of 13 volunteers who poured beer throughout the afternoon at various brewery tents.
Shepherd explained that the money they received for volunteering at Rails & Ales will go to INTO Giving, an international education-focused charity. Specifically, the funds raised at Rails & Ales will be dedicated to purchase equipment for a computer lab at an orphanage.
“This charity is amazing,” she said.
Locally, the group helps international students prepare for and get admitted to college and then adapt to campus life. Marshall currently has students from 47 countries, she said.
Sara Dempsey is executive director of Little Victories Animal Rescue, which is a no-kill animal shelter in Ona, WV. On their 110-acre farm they care for over 100 animals. With veterinary expenses very costly and needing 185 pounds of feed a day, fund-raising is a constant need for the group. They brought 30 volunteers to Rails & Ales.
“This was an excellent opportunity for us to come and serve the animals in a fun way,” she said. “As you can imagine it takes quite a bit to serve our mission. We’re really excited not only to raise the money but also to be able to tell people what group we’re from.”
Pleased with the results of the donation program’s first year, Jessica Pressman is already looking toward the future.
Festival charities getting more attention
Around the country, as well as in West Virginia, the hallmark of a great beer festival is not just about the beer it pours, but is also about how much it gives back to its community. An earlier BrilliantStream article highlighted the generosity of Mountaineer Brewfest in Wheeling. Back in May, all the profits from Charleston’s Foam at the Dome festival were dedicated to local community development projects. Now, Rails & Ales has upped its contribution in a big way.
In the future, when you are thinking of attending a brewfest, check out the charities or causes that the festival benefits. If those things aren’t prominent in the festival advertising, ask the festival to make that part of their effort more visible. Ask festivals to commit more of their proceeds to worthy community projects and groups. The craft beer community is doing much to help make this a better world in which to live. We need to make this message a greater part of our communication strategy.