A Gift That Will Keep On Giving

In my article in Sunday’s Seattle Times on The Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), I mentioned how significant it was that Bob and Cheree Moore of Bob’s Red Mill pledged $25 million dollars to OHSU to further research and community outreach in the areas of epigenetics and nutrition for women and girls. (See yesterday’s post for more on the science of this.)

But this is not just an isolated act of giving on the Moores’ part. Moore and his business partners in Bob’s Red Mill are giving their company back to their employees through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).

“Their philanthropy really came about with our ESOP,” says Lori Sobelson, director of community outreach for Bob’s Red Mill. Five years ago when Bob turned 81 he made the announcement that he and his partners would give the company to the employees.

“They were not interested in selling it to another company,” Sobelson says, adding that they get offers every day from larger companies. (This does not surprise me one bit, given the trend of big food monoliths buying up smaller food companies in the organic and natural sectors. If you are a visual learner, you will like this pictorial representation.)

But back to the story. When Bob’s Red Mill is doing well financially, it will buy a certain percentage of stock shares from the owners and give them to the employees. The money from those stock shares is what has funded Bob and Cheree’s philanthropy.

Sobelson manages the cooking school at Bob’s Red Mill, but she also works with the various organizations that the Moores have given money to in order to make sure the money is used as intended. She sits in on board meetings and gives opinion on what Bob and Charlee would want. “Everyone at OHSU has been fabulous, they are great to work with, they really appreciate the gift and the focus it has on nutrition,” she says.

She said the Moores’ interest in nutrition goes back to when Charlee was a young girl and her grandmother was very focused on eating right, which included whole grains. “Charlee really implemented that within the home,” Sobelson said. “It was really important to her to raise her boys with healthy foods.”

Bob and Charlee started their first whole grain milling business in Redding, California around 1969. He eventually came to Portland, where he was born, to start Bob’s Red Mill. “He wanted to communicate to the community the importance of whole grains,” Sobelson says. “We take pride with providing people with good, healthy food. Then we take that money and fund these programs.”

Sobelson said the Moores’ often ask her for her advice, and she helps them put their money where she thinks it will have the most benefit. “It’s an uphill battle, but you have to start somewhere,” she said. “We are making a difference.”