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Since adopting a co-operative business model in 2017, Bellingham’s A1DesignBuild has donated more than $100,000 worth of funds, material, and labor to the local community.

When large racial justice demonstrations broke out in 2020, A1DesignBuild employees marched in solidarity with other peaceful protestors at Bellingham rallies. But General Manager Patrick Martin felt even more could be done to ensure the community understood the company’s commitment to lending a supportive hand.

The company put together a community outreach committee, with members and employees paid for their time. Many of them donated that money right back to charitable causes.

The company is proud to be inclusive and includes a rainbow-colored logo in celebration of Pride Month in June. Photo credit: A1DesignBuild

In time, the benefits of having a transparent, nonprofit branch to their company became clear, and for the last two years, A1DesignBuild worked to create “A1andALL.” This January they were officially granted nonprofit status and made their first donations to nearly a dozen community partners in April.

The majority of funds came from the 12 co-op members themselves, who agreed to donate 10% of their patronage dividends (before taxes) to the cause. In total, over $7,800 was available, with only about $1,500 held back for donations later this year.

McKai Morgan, a residential designer at A1DesignBuild, says “A1andALL” is a tangible embodiment of the company’s longtime spirit of giving, dating back to its 1955 inception. 

“The more we can do, the more we can uplift our immediate community,” he says.

After several years of planning and paperwork, A1BuildDesign’s new nonprofit, A1andALL, was granted certified nonprofit status in January 2024. Photo credit: A1DesignBuild

Plenty to Give

This spring, A1DesignBuild provided help to Lydia Place, Whatcom Peace and Justice Center, Planned Parenthood, Road2Home, Opportunity Council, Vamos, and several close-to-their-office groups in the Birchwood neighborhood.

These include Friends of the Family Resource Center and Birchwood Food Desert Fighters, the latter of which helps stock A1-built food pantry boxes with free, nutritious food amid the neighborhood’s food desert, where fresh produce and healthy foods are hard to come by.

That desert was formed in 2016, when a longtime neighborhood Albertsons store closed. As part of leaving, the company issued a “non-compete” clause for the building, ensuring that another grocery store could not occupy the building until 2042, according to the Bellingham Herald. This has left some of the city’s lowest-income residents with whatever they can find at nearby outlet, drug, and convenience stores.

Among A1andALL’s latest projects is an update to previously-built food pantry boxes in Bellingham’s Birchwood neighborhood. The area has been a food desert since an Albertsons store closed in 2016. Photo credit: Matt Benoit

A1DesignBuild originally built and installed the boxes several years ago, but time and weather have left some in need of repair or replacement. Three of them will be replaced by reconfigured metal newspaper boxes that A1 has ordered.

The project is in need of public help to cover residual expenses associated with the box project, and half a dozen people have already stepped up. Half of the donations are recurring monthly amounts between $10 and $50, something that A1’s Justus Peterson points out as emblematic of the charitable nature of both A1DesignBuild and Bellingham at-large.

“There are so many like-minded people in this community that are more interested in giving than taking,” he says. “We’re more of the ‘we’ mindset instead of the ‘me’ mindset.”

The Impact and the Future

A1 has not just thrown money at local organizations but been a boots-on-the-ground presence in lending a helping hand. The impact is tangible.

A1DesignBuild employees have lent their time and talents to build items like bed frames and desks for those who need them. Peterson even helped a woman transport her new furniture to a new living situation.

A1DesignBuild worked with Shuksan Middle School’s Family Resources Center several years ago, building bed frames for families in need. Photo credit: A1DesignBuild

“I think there’s a sense of ownership when you have something that’s your own,” he says. “When these folks get that bed frame, and they’re no longer sleeping on a mattress on the floor, it’s a little bit empowering.”

Morgan said the company also worked with Alderwood Elementary School on an ADA-accessible garden bed project, and are hoping to do similar projects with others in the future.

When Mike Feeney, an A1DesignBuild designer, personally walked a check over to the nearby Family Resources Center at Shuksan Middle School, he was told A1’s donation was equal to a week’s worth of supplies for every person they serve.

Having grown up in Bellingham and been grateful for the opportunities the community has given him, Peterson feels confident that together the community and A1DesignBuild can make a world of difference for those who need it most.

“Bellingham is a part of who I am,” he says. “And to really honor that and pay that back, I feel an obligation to my community. To make sure we’re trying to make it a better place at every opportunity that we’re given.”

Looking ahead, A1DesignBuild is hoping to grow their giving, both financially and in the number of community members they can help. 

“We’re dreaming big numbers in the future, where we can change the way things get done,” Feeney says. “It’s a really incredible experience to be a part of this. There’s no downside to it at all.”

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