Not all are toasting Mascoma health center’s beer-buying fundraiser

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2020 9:24:56 PM
Modified: 6/9/2020 9:24:47 PM

CANAAN — At certain convenience stores in the Mascoma Valley this month, $1 for every Bud Light case sold and $2 for every Bud Light Seltzer case sold will be donated to the Mascoma Community Health Center.

The promotion linking support for the Canaan nonprofit health center to sales of alcoholic beverages struck at least one member of the community as inappropriate.

Dr. David Beaufait, a semi-retired family practitioner and former Enfield town moderator who previously worked at the health center and served on its board, took to the Enfield Listserv to express his displeasure after seeing a flyer for the fundraiser at a store.

The flyer includes a picture of the health center, which first opened in 2017, photos and names of providers who work there and logos of Bud Light products.

“The reputation of MCHC, as our only community health center, is worth far more than the small amount of financial support to be gained,” he wrote in a Monday post. “I urge the members of our Mascoma Valley communities to directly provide MCHC your perspective of the necessity of careful, appropriate and responsible MCHC marketing choices, including public health messaging.”

The fundraiser, in conjunction with Hooksett, N.H.-based Bellavance Beverage Co., Jake’s Market and other stores in the area, comes as the center, like most health care providers around the country is struggling to make ends meet amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the related reduction in revenues it has seen.

“The health center relies on donations and community support to make it each month,” said Peter Thurber, the chairman of the nonprofit center’s board.

The health center’s revenues were edging closer to covering its expenses when the pandemic hit, said Thurber, a Canaan resident who works as a curriculum specialist at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy. But the pandemic and related stay-at-home orders reduced the number of patient visits by 40% to 60% in recent months, he said.

“That hurts,” he said. “If we’re going to stay here as an important resource to the community, we need help.”

Despite state and federal support, Thurber said the health center will need to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars by the end of the year. It has the funds to make payroll in the near term, but he said the longer-term future is less clear.

“It is important that we seek support in every way,” Thurber said. “No margin, no mission. (We) have to have the resources available to keep the services available to the community.”

The health center aims to become a federally qualified health center which would provide it with increased federal financial support, but plans to do so have been delayed at least in part due to the pandemic, he said.

Despite the financial pressures health centers like Mascoma are facing, Dr. James Sargent, who directs the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth, named for the former surgeon general, said it’s not a good idea for them to accept funding directly tied to alcohol sales.

Alcohol can negatively affect people’s physical and mental health, as well as families and employers, Sargent said.

“To tie the amount that goes out to the health center to the amount of Budweiser that gets sold, it just kind of sends a bad message,” Sargent said. “It smacks of a kind of corporate image-making.”

Sargent said it would be better for the distributor to make a direct donation to the health center, rather than tying the donation to sales.

Across the country, beer sales have been up since the lockdowns began in mid-March. From March 8 through May 31, beer sales rose more than 20%, to nearly $11.3 billion, according to Brewbound, a beer industry publication.

Bruce Bergeron, who owns Jake’s Market, which has locations in Enfield and Canaan, said he suggested the Mascoma Community Health Center to Bellavance Beverage Co. as an area organization that could use some extra support during the pandemic.

Jake’s is matching the funds raised through the promotion dollar for dollar, Bergeron said.

Jake’s sells beer and other “controlled substances” every day in a responsible way, Bergeron said. While he said he understands why some people are uncomfortable with the promotion linking alcohol sales to the community health center, he said, “The health center certainly is in need of help. This is one way we could do our little part.”

He also noted that the promotion does not include a discount but is simply directing a portion of the proceeds to the health center, which he said provides an “invaluable” service to the community by providing care to people closer to where they live.

Alice Ely, who directs the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley, declined to comment on the fundraiser for the health center in a Tuesday email.

“As a nonprofit director, I know how challenging it is to raise the funds necessary to sustain an organization,” she said. “I also know that nonprofit leadership has to balance meeting the mission of the organization and engaging with community members who want to support the work against the unintended consequences of those alliances.”

Thurber, the board chairman, acknowledged that the health center doesn’t want to be promoting unhealthy behaviors, such as consuming too much alcohol.

“We see what you’re saying here,” Thurber said in response to Beaufait’s criticism. “But the horse is out of the barn.

“We’re not marketing professionals. We’re focused on other things.”

Thurber said the health center’s board would like to recruit a new member who has a marketing background.

“We’re working to survive,” he said. “We will do better next time.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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