You name it: from hunger to hurricanes, there's an involvement for supermarkets. As focal points in the community, supermarkets are called upon to support a host of community activities: Food drives, disasters, youth programs and education.
Supermarkets usually participate, attributing altruism as a desire to "give something back to the community."
Now, as welfare-to-work programs increase, retailers, in their generosity, are focusing on various forms of food banks.
With the "working poor" strapped to the minimum wage, demand for food is running as much as 15% above last year at this time, collection agencies report.
"More low-income people have jobs than ever before, but 80% of the families served by the Community Food Bank of New Jersey earn less than $16,000 a year," said Margaret Bigley, director of marketing for Pathmark Stores, Carteret, N.J., and a volunteer for the Community Food Bank.
In St. Louis, a spokesman for the areawide Food Pantry Association said that demand for food this year is about 10% higher from clients who are working at minimum wage and "can't put food on the table in order to pay the rent."
In California, food banks, too, are hurting, said Nancy McGagin, manager of corporate and consumer affairs at Raley's Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif. That firm's "Food for Families" is an ongoing program providing food for the needy in the communities of northern California and Nevada served by the 91 Raley's, Bel Air and Food Source stores.
"Raley's sees this as a way of putting needed resources back into the community," said McGagin. "As a grocery company, it is natural that the Raley commitment be one of answering a growing national concern, that of hungry men, women, and children."
Food for Families began as a 1986 Christmas drive, later evolving into a year-round program. All contributions go directly to food-collection agencies, enabling them to purchase food at Raley's cost. Since its inception, Food for Families has collected more than $6 million in cash contributions, with Raley's contributing an additional $883,000 for meat products for holiday food baskets. The company foots all administrative expenses.
Raley's, like most food-bank drivers, uses cash canisters at checkout and certificates in various denominations that are picked up by the shopper, scanned, and then added to the grocery bill. The charitable part of the food bill is credited to Food for Families. With the scanner cards in denominations of $2, $3 and $5, "we make it easy for the contributor who doesn't have $5 in his or her pocket," said McGagin.
"Retailers are fond of food banks," said Tracey Taylor, director of resource development at the Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger, Washington. FICAH raises money for anti-hunger programs.
Companies representing 6,000 retail stores take part in FICAH's year-round and seasonal programs. Funds are collected from supermarket shoppers by means of scannable point-of-purchase coupons.
Forty-five percent of collections go to FICAH's overseas self-help programs, with the balance going to charities selected by participating retailers.
"Retailers choose to fund a lot of food banks," said Taylor. She noted, for example, that in last year's seasonal fund drive -- from October to January -- the Miami division of Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., raised $350,000; of that amount the company designated $100,000 for the local Daily Bread food bank.
In late April, it was disclosed that NetGrocer, an on-line grocery shopping service, had teamed up with Second Harvest in launching an innovative campaign aimed at fighting hunger with a first-of-its-kind "Click to Give" food-donation program. "Whether you want to donate a few items every week or make one or two large donations annually, the program offers convenience: no errands to run, phone calls to make, or checks to write," said Fred Horowitz, president and chief executive officer of NetGrocer.
The Click to Give program features packages that range from $50 to $375 that feed a family of one, two or four for a month, he pointed out. As part of the program, NetGrocer will contribute $5 in products for every donation order placed. Furthermore, customers participating in the campaign will receive 5% off their next NetGrocer order.
Community Food Bank of New Jersey raises funds for food from special events, such as the "Blue Jean Ball" in early June. The event, co-chaired by Pathmark's Bigley, is a festive but casual affair held in Community Food Bank's warehouse. Tickets are $80.
Supermarkets are the "lightning rods of commerce in a community," said Bernie Rogan, corporate public relations director at Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass. "Everybody goes there," he noted, and thus there are all types of request for aid. "It's no longer just a St. Patrick's parade or Feast of St. Joseph. In some of our Connecticut cities, there are 40 or more different ethnic groups, each with its own request."
Although Shaw's corporate or regional office studies the request to make sure it is worthy, there is a trend toward the company being more responsive on the store level, Rogan noted. Merchandise certificates, in lieu of cash, often are given to organizations seeking contributions for such things as street fairs.
Sometimes, Shaw's will tie-in with a vendor such as General Mills, Rogan pointed out. The two companies, for example, were involved in sponsorship of an exhibit of Titanic artifacts in Boston Harbor. Rogan said that he got a "lump sum" from the manufacturer to cover transportation of middle- and high-school students to the exhibit from about 90 schools in New England.
Indeed, programs involving youth and education consistently are the main targets in grocers' community-service projects. Seventy-two percent of the respondents in a 1998 Food Marketing Institute survey said that partnering with local schools is a "top priority."
Such importance is manifested at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., where it was disclosed that more than 1,800 schools in New England earned free teaching materials and classroom equipment through the firm's Education Express program. More than $2.5 million worth of equipment was distributed between September 1997 and Jan. 12, 1999. Noting that students are "our future labor force," Claire D'Amour, vice president for corporate affairs, said that the company focuses its philanthropy on educational programs rather than on the symphony and the arts.
When Big Y shoppers purchased money-saving products featured with the Big Y Express Savings Club loyalty card, they earned merchandise points for the school of their choice. Schools redeemed these points for new computers, software, textbooks, math and science equipment, sports equipment and other school supplies. Since its inception in 1996, the program has awarded more than $4.5 million worth of free equipment.
Big Y also launched "Homework Helpline" in 1993, a telephone tutoring line for students and parents throughout the firm's trade area. A number of vendors help pay the bill for the dozen teachers on duty after school to answer questions on a variety of school subjects. With the advent of an 800 number, calls are coming from as far away as California. But primarily the 70,000 students assisted since 1993 were from western Massachusetts and Connecticut.
In another campaign involving equipment for a school, ShopRite/Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., teamed with Campbell's Soup in bringing the latter's Labels for Education Sweepstakes to the area of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Pennsylvania. The winner, a pre-school, won a certificate for 1 million labels to be used for equipment, school supplies or even a minivan.
To enter, a school must be registered in the program. The school submits an entry from a ShopRite circular. From a random drawing, 51 school names are pulled. Fifty schools receive 20,000 labels each -- and the grand winner gets 1 million labels.
"The Labels for Education Sweepstakes allows ShopRite stores to make a difference in their community," said spokeswoman Cathy Houston-Corris. "The program fosters community and school pride by bringing classmates, administrators, parents and neighbors together to work on a fun project that can provide needed equipment for their schools."
Another partnership benefiting youth is that of Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., and Legoland California. The combine recently presented a $75,000 donation to the Children's Bureau of Southern California. The amount was generated from ticket sales to the "Ralphs Club Exclusive Premier Party," a preview part to the Legoland theme park. Shoppers purchased tickets at $20 each at 20 Southland Ralphs locations. "We are proud to be able to contribute to Children's Bureau and support its efforts to prevent child abuse," said Tom Dahlen, executive vice president of marketing for Ralphs. "We are committed, along with Legoland and Children's Bureau, to the fight to end child abuse."
Community involvement is the key to success for four Piggly-Wigglys in Rome, Ga., said Richard Shiftlett, human resources director for franchisee W.E. Salmon Inc. "As a company, we have always believed that the success of our stores depends on our community involvement. Our stores have continued to prosper despite the appearance of chains that have come and gone."
The stores recently worked in conjunction with local police to sponsor a "Bicycle Rodeo." Police provided the helmets, training materials and manpower. Piggly-Wiggly people went to schools to talk with children, rented a moonwalk and an inflatable obstacle course, arranged for a clown and a special appearance of "Mr. Pig." Company cost for the event was less than $8,000, Shiftlett said. More than 250 bikers showed up in a four-hour period. The store where the rodeo was held reported a sales increase of $8,000 for the day.
"It is very important for your managers to be involved with other business leaders in the community," Shiftlett noted. "They will learn about upcoming events and needs in the community."
Victory Super Markets, Leominster, Mass., gives a monetary grant to several local charities and community projects when it opens a store in a new town. Recently, when a new unit was opened in Derry, N.H., the company donated $5,000 to the town of Derry to help expand and improve local parks and recreation facilities; $2,500 to the Boys' and Girls' Clubs of Greater Derry to support their ongoing program efforts; $2,500 to the Derry/Londerry Timberland United Way; and $2,500 to the Nutfield Community YMCA.
"We feel it is very important to give back to the communities in which we do business," said Victory president Jay DiGeronimo. "We do this by supporting a wide range of local causes and events such as sports and recreational programs, activities for kids and seniors, food pantries, school programs and many other projects," he noted.
Rather than wait for requests for aid, the company contacted nearly 100 nonprofit and charitable organizations in the Derry area to let them know that it is available to assist them through food and other product donations as well as monetary support.
Down in Texas, Randall's Food Markets, Houston, contacted organizations with its guidelines for participating in the firm's "Good Neighbor" program. A flier contained a message from Randall Onstead Jr., president and CEO, pointing out that as the company has expanded and as needs in communities increased, "we are finding it difficult to respond adequately to all requests for assistance."
The company had been getting as many as 75 written requests a week for some type of assistance, said Dawne Proffitt, public relations manager. Now, more than 7,000 organizations are enrolled in the Good Neighbor program, which gives these nonprofit groups a quarterly donation based on members' food purchases. The donations range from 1% for total-food purchases up to $19,999, to 3% for purchases from $50,000 and up.
Purchases from members of each organization are tallied using Randall's loyalty card.
And, of course, food firms are always there when a disaster strikes, especially on the local level. For example, Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City, took immediate action when a devastating tornado hit the area this spring. The company coordinated shipments of 45 truckloads of food -- primarily from manufacturers. Additionally, 15,000 square feet of warehouse space were made available as a staging area for the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Fleming trucks later delivered these goods to individual relief locations. The company also hauled private-label grocery and nonfood items to relief agencies.
In Michigan, Farmer Jack Supermarkets recently participated in a 24-hour on-air "request-a-thon" to help the American Red Cross of southeast Michigan raise disaster-relief funds to aid refugees fleeing Kosovo. The live broadcast was staged at one of the firm's 100 area stores. About $50,000 was raised in a 24-hour period.
"We are honored to assist the American Red Cross in their humanitarian fund-raising efforts to aid refugees from Kosovo," said Craig Sturken, president of Farmer Jack. "The organization provides important disaster-relief services to people in Michigan and around the world each day and Farmer Jack Supermarkets is proud to be part of that."
Earlier, the company took donations for a general Red Cross fund drive, using front-end scanners. Special placards with certificates of $1 and $2 allowed customers to have their donations added right to their grocery bills. Thus, a database has been established and front-end scanners are set up to handle funding to aid victims of any future local disaster, a spokesman said.
Some stores prefer the all-encompassing programs of the United Way and vigorously back that agency. Greg Josefowicz, president of Jewel-Osco, based in Melrose Park, Ill., said that the firm's support for United Way goes back more than 60 years. In addition to window signs and grocery-bag messages to encourage customer contributions, Jewel-Osco associates donated more than $1.7 million to United Way in 1998.
Bernie Rogan of Shaw's said that United Way represented the firm's biggest charitable activity. Thirty days prior to the regular fund-raising, Shaw's gets involved in a "pacesetter campaign" that challenges other corporations to keep pace with the supermarket company.