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Oskar Blues Brewery is going beyond beer—and outside state lines—in its latest charitable effort. In recent weeks, the Longmont-based brewery’s nonprofit arm, the CAN’d Aid Foundation, has delivered 100,000 cans of drinking water to relieve residents of Flint, Michigan, where the water has been contaminated.
Like most of Oskar Blue’s aid efforts, their response to this crisis has been fast and furious. “I think the beauty of what’s happening with us is we can be nimble and respond on a dime,” says Diana Ralston, executive director of the CAN’d Aid Foundation. “With the water it was a no brainer; we have the ability to do it and get it out quickly.”
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From idea to execution, the Oskar Blues team delivered 50,000 cans of water to Flint in less than one week, stopping beer production at its Brevard, North Carolina, facility for eight days in order to can the clean water. Many employees were involved in getting the water into the hands of residents—from contacting Michigan aid groups, to asking Colorado partner Ball Corporation to donate extra cans, and sterilizing the brew tanks. “It was a complete team effort,” says Aaron Baker, Oskar Blues team member. “And it took some sacrifice on the part of our production staff, who operate at breakneck speed to switch from producing the beer we need to fill orders to making canned water.” A second run of 50,000 cans was completed at the Longmont location on January 25.
In January, Michigan governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency, announcing that anyone who has consumed Flint’s water since April 2014 has been exposed to lead, and is at risk of lead poisoning. The list of side effects of lead consumption is lengthy, running the gamut from developmental delays to memory loss. And while there’s no safe amount of exposure, children’s developing brains and nervous systems are most vulnerable. The CAN’d Aid team traveled to Flint at the end of January to deliver a $5,000 donation to the Flint Child & Health Development Fund, which will assist in getting children the testing they need.
Ralston and Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis have used their connections with nationwide distributors and wholesalers to make a charitable impact in the past. When the floods devastated the Colorado Front Range in fall 2013, they acted fast. “We expedited our 501(c)(3) application so we could assist with disaster relief,” Ralston says. Within one week of the floods, CAN’d Aid was a registered nonprofit—and they raised nearly $1 million in their first year to help the areas hardest hit by the floods.
Now in its third year of operation, CAN’d Aid has also delivered drinking water and relief support following flooding in South Carolina and tornadoes in Texas, with Oskar Blues employees readily volunteering to help. “Disaster relief and assistance align nicely with the people who work here and what we’re passionate about,” Ralston says. During the South Carolina floods, a bus of employee volunteers from the North Carolina location spent the weekend mucking and gutting homes. Other initiatives that CAN’d Aid hosts include cycling clinics for kids, sustainable recycling programs, and community cleanup days on the Yampa River near Steamboat Springs.
Currently, CAN’d Aid is taking advantage of their nationwide connections to deliver potable water to Flint. While Colorado’s Ball Corporation donated cans, Justus Trucking in North Carolina provided discounted rates to transport the water. It’s likely they’ll continue to assist throughout the crisis. “We’re continuing to monitor to find out what the need is and how we can help,” Ralston says.
When this relief effort is in motion, Oskar Blue’s facilities are not producing at their normal schedule. “As you can imagine, with a fully operational brewery you have to interrupt the brew schedule, clean the tanks, and switch gears,” Ralston says. But the entire staff is involved in making this switch. “It’s part of our DNA,” she says. “Everyone who works at Oskar Blues is hard wired to go above and beyond to help.” It’s never a question of if they can make it happen, it’s how fast.