FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Food For All is building its portfolio of fund-raising projects with a program that might at first appear to be the antithesis of feeding the hungry: preventing childhood obesity.
The food industry's anti-hunger organization here is partnering with Salt Lake City-based EarlySport Foundation on a kids' fitness and nutrition program called GoZonkers. The program, designed to help prevent obesity in elementary school children, is currently running in some Utah school districts. With the support of retailers and consumer packaged goods manufacturers, Food For All wants to take the program national next year through fund-raising drives at supermarket chains.
Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., is the first to commit to a three- to six-week drive during the 2006 back-to-school season. Sonja Tuitele, a spokeswoman for the natural and organic chain, told SN the program ties in well with Wild Oats' mission. "It's great to see how different organizations are trying to be creative fighting the obesity epidemic among kids, and it is very consistent with our mission to get kids to eat healthier and have greater balance in their lives through exercise, nutrition and fitness."
Other large chains also are considering supporting the program by raising funds through consumer donations of $1, $3 or $20 at the checkout register, according to Denis R. Zegar, president and chief executive officer of Food For All.
Zegar sees the partnership with EarlySport as a logical extension of what Food For All is all about. "Childhood obesity brings on illnesses and diseases that children can carry for a lifetime, in much the same way children suffering from malnutrition develop the same kind of problems that can last a lifetime," he explained. "We feel this [program] fits in well with our hunger mandate."
GoZonkers grew out of EarlySport's physical education curriculum it developed for non-phys ed teachers to use in grade schools. Physical education is nearly nonexistent in many elementary schools today because of budget cuts and lack of federal funding, according to Boyd Jentzsch, EarlySport president and CEO.
Only 8% of grade schools offer physical education on a daily basis, he said.
Jentzsch said GoZonkers is the commercial counterpart of the heavily researched phys ed curriculum that takes place outside of the classroom. GoZonkers, consisting of several coordinated educational components (see related story below), takes place in the classroom, where kids are taught the program and exercise at their desks.
Food For All is the funding mechanism to run the kids' fitness program, and supermarkets can get the program distributed in their local schools. "Every major grocery store in an urban area will have about three to four elementary schools in their community, so there might be three schools we can support with the donations," Zegar said.
Getting the message out about the value of regular exercise and the importance of maintaining a nutritional diet is especially challenging for lower-income families living in urban areas such as East Los Angeles or the South Bronx, said Jentzsch, who believes this program can help counter some of the health issues found among children living in poor neighborhoods.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, indicate weight gain among children is a growing problem, and it raises concerns about the risks of numerous diseases and health conditions due to being overweight. The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Among children and adolescents 6 to 19 years old, 16% -- over 9 million young people -- are now considered overweight.
One possible cause is a sedentary lifestyle. More than a third of young people in grades nine to 12 do not regularly engage in vigorous physical activity. Daily participation in high school physical education classes has dropped from 42% in 1991 to 28% in 2003.
GoZonkers also gives food manufacturers, which consumer advocacy groups say are not doing enough to provide healthy eating options for children, the opportunity to take a leadership role on the issue through sponsorship of the program. "Manufacturers are interested in preventing childhood obesity, because they are trying to reformulate many of their products," Zegar said. "The approach we are taking is that it is not necessarily what the kids eat; it's the fact they don't get enough exercise."
While the GoZonkers program is not considered all that expensive -- about $20 a classroom per month -- it does need a chain with a large number of stores to make it affordable and to defer the printing costs of teachers' guides, informational magazines and other materials.
"The program can run for one, two or three months," Zegar explained. "It can also run for the whole year, depending on the funding levels, and that's where the manufacturer support comes in and helps us run the program for a longer period of time."
EXPANDING THE CAUSE
Food For All, which is celebrating its 20th year, has raised well over $40 million for food banks and charitable organizations around the world. Last year, the organization raised $4.7 million through about 8,000 supermarkets, and it expects to top the $5 million mark this year, Zegar said. This year's holiday program will get an extra boost, because all Albertsons' divisions will be participating for the first time, he said.
Is Zegar concerned that GoZonkers might cannibalize Food For All's other programs it runs during the year? No, he said, because Food For All will never run the GoZonkers fund-raiser simultaneously with other Food For All programs. He noted that the holiday program begins in mid-October and another campaign is conducted during Hunger Awareness Month in June. That leaves the period during back-to-school open.
"What we're trying to do is have a menu of things that retailers and manufacturers can participate in. Whatever may fit their cost-marketing portfolio, we have something that will work for them," Zegar said.
The Food For All organization also works with supermarkets on customized promotions. K-VA-T Food Stores' Race Against Hunger, now in its third year, is one good example. The Abingdon, Va.-based chain and its Food City stores continue to build on the event each year, which is tied to NASCAR auto racing at Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tenn.
"This program has given tremendous visibility to Food City and what they are trying to do in their communities," Zegar said.
At the same time, the fund-raiser has helped increase loyalty and sales because big-name manufacturers support the program, he added.
"That's the kind of program that we're able to construct for a retailer." He sees Food For All as an important part of both supermarkets' and manufacturers' overall marketing plans.
Zegar, who began at Food For All in 2001, the year when the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place, admitted disasters can make it challenging for charitable organizations to vie for public funding.
However, Food For All can quickly respond with a program targeted toward a specific disaster, he said, as it did recently with Associated Grocers of Baton Rouge to help Hurricane Katrina victims.
"We know that 100% of the money goes right to the local level, to the people who are actually living there. It's not being done here in Washington," Zegar said.
Food For All was founded on the philosophy that it is not only important to feed the hungry, it is also important that those less fortunate eventually be able to help themselves.
Zegar mentioned a program Food For All is funding in Afghanistan, where women are loaned $70 to buy a sewing machine to do work for United States-based companies.
"They're paying off the loans quickly, and they've become the major provider for their families," Zegar noted.
Winning Back Kids
GoZonkers is an integrated educational and marketing program that encourages kids to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
The program is targeted to grade school children, and funded through Food For All donations at supermarkets. Its mission is to raise awareness and provide a solution to childhood obesity through exercise and healthy eating. Several components make up the program:
- Radio Adventure is an eight-minute drama that kids can download to the computers at their desks. The program takes kids through a vigorous workout session that includes warmup, stretching, jumping and cool-down. The daily drama also contains nutritional messages about healthy eating.
- GoZonkers WildBook Magazine is a monthly publication with engaging nutrition and health content for kids.
- GoZonkers Families Magazine is a take-home publication for parents highlighting the coordinated curriculum of the GoZonkers program. The magazine can also include sponsoring manufacturers' and retailers' coupons.
- Other collateral includes physical activity and nutrition teaching guides, parent and teacher activation packets, and various program posters.
The cost of delivering the program is cheaper than a Weekly Reader subscription, said Boyd Jentzsch, president and chief executive officer of EarlySport Foundation, Salt Lake City. For $20 per classroom per month, the schools get 16 to 18 radio programs per month along with the magazines and about 30 lesson plans, he said.
GoZonkers can benefit supermarkets and manufacturer sponsors in several ways. The sponsors delivering the program get tie-in tags on the radio program and through the magazines. "Our philosophy is that kids need healthy brands and healthy brands need kids," said Jentzsch, who believes it's important to advertise healthy products to children because if you don't, the only ads they'll see are those that aren't so healthy.
The schools, which don't usually allow any advertising of products to kids, have made an exception with GoZonkers because the educators believe in the cause, Jentzsch said.
He noted that when kids are asked where they want to shop or where they enjoy shopping, more than 80% say Wal-Mart; their second choice is Target. When kids are asked where they obtain most of the foods they eat, most say they get over half their calories from foods they buy in a convenience store.
"The problem is, there is a generation of kids who have spent very little time in grocery stores that are full service and contain fresh fruits and vegetables," Jentzsch said. He maintains grocery stores have lost their brand to kids and they now have an opportunity to recapture kids through GoZonkers.
"More food retailers need to find more ways to reach out to kids and do it in a way that gives them a proprietary advantage over their competitors. Food retailers have what it takes to help kids get healthy, and we want to help retailers who want to reach out. We have the resources, muscle power, educational power, and if we can get more reach through Food For All, we feel we can do an awful lot of good," Jentzsch said.