Cover Story Notebook: Surly Gives a Damn

In an ongoing series, Brewer will take a small note from interviews of some of the cover stories it has run and given a small tidbit that didn’t make the issue but is still worth diving into.

Surly Brewing’s “Surly Gives a Damn” initiative is in its 10th official year of being a 501(c)(3) and giving back to the Minneapolis community.

Co-founder Omar Ansari spoke with Brewer in early June for the July/August 2020 cover story and noted that most recently at that time donated $37,000 for Black Lives Matter and some of the rebuilding efforts to the city.

“We do our best to try and give back in a manner that we can,” Ansari said.

The reason the program even started was that Ansari said more than a decade ago, they had so many people that would ask for free beer.

“We were tiny, so we’d just give it to people,” he recalls. “We didn’t really have a rigorous donation policy like we do now.”

Now, those looking for donations have to be a 501(c)(3) and fit a certain profile.

“We’re not going to give to a kid’s organization, because that always feels kind of weird,” Ansari said.

But with the ability to help fundraisers, charity auctions, and other things, the Surly staff started to realize just what a part beer is in so many people’s lives. Although helping was in the DNA of the brewery, helping every request became tedious.

“We had some volunteers that wanted to get together in the name of Surly, and do some volunteering work,” Ansari explained. ​So he tabbed​ Mary ​​Sellke​ to take ​the organization by the horns​.

“Because if people are gonna start volunteering in the name of Surly​ — ​which is awesome​ — ​we should probably help organize it,” he said.

It was a big help. Sometimes too big of a help, Ansari said with a chuckle.

“Most places that have people volunteering have like ​8-10 people showing up and we could bring 50 or 100 people​,” he said. ​So Sellke now can help coordinate what and how many are needed to help in projects.

​Ansari said he got the idea also from Harpoon Brewing’s Liz Melby.​

​”They had a group called Harpoon Helps and she was sort of the one that turned me on to if you buy someone a glass of beer It’s amazing what they’ll do,” Ansari said.

So at the end of every volunteer event that Surly Gives a Damn does, they take the volunteers to a Surly bar and buys everyone a beer.

“That’s kind of what it’s all about, you know? Getting together with that group and having a beer and just trying to find a way to give back a bit,” Ansari said.

In 2019, the program had more than 4,200 volunteer hours.

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