Fundholder Spotlight: Supporting Flood Relief and Leaning In When It Counts
It was a busy afternoon at Phoenix Books in Burlington recently as shoppers chatted about their favorite reads, paid for titles at the register, and squinted at the handwritten staff book reviews around the store that are literary gems in their own right.
The store was full of energy and personality–just like co-owner Renee Reiner, who took a short break from the action to sit down near the stacks and talk about her recent efforts to support the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund 2023.
Reiner, a Vermont Community Foundation fundholder since 2014, knew as soon as the news broke about the devastating flooding in July that she wanted to help. Although she was not directly affected, the “incredibly dramatic and horrifying” scenes of downtowns, farms, and houses underwater underscored the need for support, Reiner said.
So, when the Vermont Community Foundation announced the creation of the flood fund on July 11, Reiner responded.
Ten days later, on July 21, all three Phoenix bookstores in Vermont dedicated 20 percent of sales to the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund. The effort generated $4,270 for the fund, which Reiner matched several times over with a personal contribution from her donor advised fund at the Vermont Community Foundation.
“The need was there, and I love being one of the people who responded to it,” Reiner said.
The VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund has raised more than $8 million in gifts and pledges and given more than $2.1 million to flood relief efforts around the state so far. It is the largest philanthropic resource created in response to the disaster and has worked in concert with many smaller, local efforts to assist affected households, farms, businesses, and municipalities.
One of those smaller efforts was also supported by Reiner. Separate from her gifts to the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund, Reiner joined husband and Phoenix co-owner Mike DeSanto in participating in a collective giving effort among independent booksellers to assist two stores that were damaged by the flooding: Bear Pond Books in Montpelier and Next Chapter in Barre. “The local bookselling community, the Vermont bookstores said, how can we support our own,” Reiner explained. “What do we do? How do we make something happen?”
Making things happen is a hallmark of Reiner’s approach to giving. Through her donor advised fund at VCF, she has supported environmental work, women’s issues, racial justice, end-of-life care, and land conservation. She opened the donor advised fund with proceeds from her mother’s estate and feels grateful she can make contributions to the causes that are meaningful to her.
“I’m supercharged that I’m this fortunate and that I can do this,” Reiner said. The Vermont Community Foundation makes giving easy and effective, Reiner said, adding: “I love VCF.”
Another important cause for Reiner and DeSanto is the literary community, which they support through their bookstores, their Onion River Press, and the nonprofit Green Mountain Book Festival. This year’s festival takes place Sept. 29 through Oct. 1 in Burlington and features headliner Alison Bechdel, the award-winning Vermont graphic novelist and cartoonist.
After more than 25 years in the book business, Reiner has ample experience in weaving philanthropy into book sales, as her recent flood relief efforts proved. There are other examples, too.
At the Vermont Community Foundation annual meeting in June, which took place at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland, Phoenix Books set up a book selling table in the lobby where keynote speaker Shaylyn Romney Garrett would sign copies of her nonfiction work, “The Upswing,” after her talk.
But before the signings, Reiner engaged in a moment of spontaneous philanthropy inside the theater, and announced to the audience of several hundred people that she would match total gross sales of the book that day with a personal donation to the Vermont Community Foundation. “So, buy every copy,” she joked from the theater stage, after Vermont Community Foundation President & CEO Dan Smith thanked Reiner for her pledge.
Who knows if it was Reiner’s offer to match sales, but a long line of people assembled to buy “The Upswing” that day.
For Reiner, part of giving is leaning in at the right moment, whether that’s during an annual meeting or in the wake of a disaster like the flooding in Vermont this summer.
“Michael and I have been members of this community for about 28 years now, and we love the sense of community in its myriad forms,” Reiner said about giving to the flood fund. “And so, when a disaster like this occurs, it only makes sense to step in, in ways that we’re able to step in, and we’re grateful to be able to do so.”