In Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, nearly a third of all residents live below the poverty line, a striking number when compared to the national poverty rate of 11.8%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In an effort to combat poverty in its community, Creature Comforts Brewing Company founded the Get Comfortable campaign, a multi-tiered approach to raise money and awareness for non-profit organizations that serve Athens-Clarke County’s most vulnerable citizens, including those without a safe place to sleep or those who do not know when they’ll eat their next meal.
“When a need goes unmet, a person becomes uncomfortable,” Creature Comforts vice president of strategic impact Matt Stevens told Brewbound. “How can we help our neighbors get more comfortable and … have more stability in their life?”
Since the Get Comfortable campaign was founded in 2014, Creature Comforts and the program’s 50-plus Athens-area businesses partners have raised $948,685. The 2019 campaign alone raised $355,424.
“We should be, as a company, adding value to the community that’s going to be supporting us,” Stevens said. “We hoped one day somebody would say, whether they drink beer or whether they like our beer, something to the tune of, ‘We are so glad Creature Comforts is in our city. Our city is better because this business is here.’”
Creature Comforts, which opened in 2014, has grown its volumes significantly over the last four years. In 2018, the company produced 36,163 barrels, up 46% from 2017.
For its part, Creature Comfort brews a “Get Comfortable” collaboration beer and donates profits from its sales at the brewery’s taproom and from sales to wholesalers and retailers to the program.
In 2019, Creature Comforts brewed the IPA with Windsor, California-based Russian Brewing Company. The 2020 edition of the beer will be brewed in collaboration with Portland, Maine-based Allagash Brewing Company.
According to Stevens, Creature Comforts seeks collaboration partners who are “famous for the ways that they impact their communities.”
To start the 2020 Get Comfortable campaign, the University of Georgia, which also calls Athens home, will host a panel discussion on January 8 titled “Tapping into Community: Craft, Culture and Innovation” featuring Stevens, Creature Comforts CEO Chris Herron and brewmaster Adam Beauchamp, as well as Allagash founder Rob Tod and brewmaster Jason Perkins.
The 2020 Get Comfortable campaign officially kicks off February 5, starting a two and a half month period in which the company donates all taproom profits on Wednesdays to the Get Comfortable fund.
Fundraising doesn’t stop in the spring, however. Throughout the year, Creature Comforts will donate the profits from Get Comfortable-branded merchandise sold online and at the brewery’s gift shop. The company will also contribute the dollar amount of the age of guests who celebrate their birthdays at the brewery.
“We’re trying to make serving as simple as possible for our customers to give back to the city that they love,” Stevens said.
Creature Comforts has also enlisted the help of more than 50 Athens businesses to support the fund. In addition to bars and restaurants selling Get Comfortable IPA, in 2019 Lyft donated $1 for every ride that began or ends at Creature Comforts. Nedza’s Waffles donated 10% of all sales on days its food truck was parked at the brewery. And Athens TLC Dental donated 5% of proceeds from new patient appointments to the fund.
“This is very much a ‘we’ thing, and not a Creature thing,” Stevens said. “The mission of Get Comfortable is exactly that: to align the business community.”
Get Comfortable beneficiaries are chosen each fall for the upcoming year and donations are collected through November. The 2019 class of agency partners included the Athens Community Council on Aging, which estimated it would deliver 4,285 additional meals through Meals on Wheels and add 20 more seniors to its roster in 2020 with the money received through the program, and the College Factory, a non-profit that prepares local high school students for college, which plans to use the money received to expand its program to include 375 additional students.
“It’s one of the first, and really only, grants I’ve heard of from a business that is this robust and comprehensive,” College Factory founder Lawrence Harris said in a video about the program. “It’s been much more of a partnership than it is just a grant.”
Creature Comforts publishes infographics each year that detail how Get Comfortable recipients will use the money received through the program. In addition to the Athens Community Council on Aging and the College Factory, Advantage Behavioral Health Systems will move seven homeless families into stable housing and add 15 families to its system. Our Daily Bread, a soup kitchen located around the corner from Creature Comforts’ brewery, will use its grant money to serve 7,500 meals this year.
“We try to make the dollars dance,” Stevens said. “At a certain point, big dollar amounts are awesome, but obviously people care far more about, ‘OK, what do these dollars mean for these agencies doing vital work,’ and more specifically, ‘what do these dollars mean for the people, the clients that these agencies are serving?’ We want to put some flesh and blood to those data points.”
In 2020, nine non-profit partners will receive grants from the Get Comfortable program: Acceptance Recovery Center, Advantage Behavioral Health, Athens Area Homeless Shelter, Athens Community Council on Aging, Brightpaths, East Athens Development Corp, Mercy Health Center, Our Daily Bread, and the Western Judicial Circuit Treatment and Accountability Court. Organizations are selected by an advisory council of professionals from Athens’ social service community.
In addition, Creature Comforts manages the Get Artistic program, a sister philanthropy program to support the Athens arts community. Last year, Get Artistic raised $18,300 toward grants for local arts organizations.
Similar to Get Comfortable IPA, Creature Comforts has brewed a Get Artistic beer for the past two years and donates profits from its sale. The 2018 and 2019 batches have differed in style. While 2018 Get Artistic was a tart wheat beer brewed with juice from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the 2019 version was a pale ale brewed with Nelson Sauvin and Hallertau Blanc hops.
The white wine flavor thread between them is intentional, Get Artistic program lead Madeline Bates told Brewbound.
“We wanted to make a beer that was in some way inspired by white wine, which is sort of an inside joke in the art world,” she said. “You drink white wine at art galleries because it’s just a thing that won’t stain the white walls or the art, so we wanted to play with that fun idea, and the really cool flavor notes that can come up.”
Beyond donating to organizations such as the Athens Area Arts Council and the Athens Symphony Orchestra, Creature Comforts also supports local artists by showcasing their works on the walls of its taproom.
Stevens said serving both causes helps to strengthen the Athens-Clarke County community as a whole.
“A concept we’ve been learning quite a bit about recently is an idea known as place attachment, which is a psychological construct that describes the emotional bond between a person and a place. Throughout the literature on this concept, there is an observed relationship between a vibrant arts scene and one’s connection to that community,” Stevens wrote in an email.
“The arts, after all, not only contribute to a city’s identity, they provide social opportunities and even physical spaces designed to bring people together. In short, a dynamic local art community contributes to place attachment; it helps turn a resident into a citizen.”