Florida supermarkets helped to extinguish the suffering as wildfires raged through the state this month.
As firefighters battled flames, supermarkets donated food and funds and served communities despite evacuation orders.
More than 20 counties were in a state of emergency and damage from fires was estimated at more than $270 million. Supermarkets escaped physical damage for the most part and were in a position to aid communities.
Corporate offices for all the major supermarket chains in Florida donated funds to the American Red Cross and other organizations, along with significant supplies of food, water and sports drinks. Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., launched an "Even It Up" campaign that rounded up shoppers orders' to the nearest dollar and sent the difference to the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. The chain has also donated about $50,000 worth of merchandise, water and sports drinks for firefighters.
Because of the high demand for sports drinks in the hot, dry state, Winn-Dixie fell behind in supply of single sports drinks, according to Larry Beck, spokesman for the chain's Orlando division.
A Winn-Dixie store in Palm Coast stayed open after all other businesses in the area were closed because of an evacuation order. It supplied firefighters, National Guard workers and others with water and food. "We stayed partly because we were concerned about refrigeration in the store, but then we emptied the whole meat and bakery case to donate to firefighters," said Steven Mock, store manager.
Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., sent five semitrailers loaded with fruit juices, sports drinks, snack foods, water and paper products valued at more than $65,000 from its Green Cove Springs distribution center to Daytona Beach. The chain has 96 Food Lion and 91 Kash n' Karry Food Stores in Florida.
A Costco unit in Altamonte Springs raised $900 in one morning for the Red Cross with a local radio station broadcasting outside the store.
The relief efforts by supermarkets weren't limited to chains."From the store, we could see the flames across the highway," said Tom Hubbard, manager of the independent Bunnell Thriftway, the only supermarket in Bunnell, Fla. Despite evacuation orders for Bunnell and the entire Flagler County earlier this month, Hubbard remained open until 2 p.m. "We're about 8 miles from the coast, so any time there is a hurricane or other event, we try to stay open as long as we can to service the community," Hubbard said. The store supplied volunteer firefighters with water, ice, and All-Sport, donated by Pepsi.
When Flagler County residents returned, some found their homes burned to the ground. Thriftway was again open. After sleeping in shelters and eating in restaurants, "everyone was looking for a home-cooked meal," Hubbard said. Because the store already had extra inventory as it was gearing up for the Fourth of July weekend, it did not run out of food.
In addition to the fires, stores in the Daytona Beach area were hurt financially by the cancellation of Daytona's Pepsi 400 race. Thousands of racing fans had been expected for the race, and some had already arrived when the cancellation was announced. Supermarkets' Fourth of July sales were also affected by a statewide ban on fireworks because of drought conditions in many areas.
Drought that has damaged certain crops, including corn, peanuts and watermelons, probably will not affect supply to supermarkets, according to Terry McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture. "Unlike winter vegetables, where we produce half of the supply for the United States, the majority of these crops don't constitute a major portion of the supply," he said.