September 2018

Feature

Feeding the Community

Food donation programs put c-store perishables to good use.
Tony Pupillo

The United States has enough food to provide for every man, woman and child. Yet according to ReFED, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing food waste, 72 billion pounds of safe, edible food goes to waste each year. In fact, an estimated 25% to 40% of food grown, processed and transported in the United States never will be consumed.

At the same time, many people in America are one crisis away from food insecurity, and some—including children and seniors—may be at greater risk of hunger than others. U.S. hunger statistics are sobering:  1 in 8 people across the nation struggle with hunger Additionally, 1 in 6 children and 1 in 12 seniors face hunger. Fifteen percent of all rural households may not know where they will get their next meal.

Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, is partnering with c-stores to help solve these issues. Its network of 200 food banks and more than 60,000 pantries and meal programs serves virtually every community in the nation—46 million people annually, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. The network offers food assistance to more than 5 million people each week, providing more than 4.3 billion meals annually.

In 2018, Cumberland Farms, Jacksons, Kum & Go, Loaf N Jug, Kwik Trip, Royal Farms and Sheetz contributed to a total of 75 million pounds of safe, wholesome food donations.

Bridging the Gap

More food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste. ReFED’s 2016 report says that each year, more than 50 billion pounds of food is wasted from consumer-facing businesses—32 billion pounds of it from foodservice.

This is where Feeding America comes in. Through its extensive network, the Chicago-based organization helped rescue 3.3 billion pounds of food last year alone. With the growth of ready-to-eat food offerings and healthier snacking options in c-stores, there’s significant potential to grow retailer food donations.

Feeding America’s newest supply chain division, Emerging Retail, focuses on working with donors that offer prepared foods. Emerging Retail is engaging with c-stores to safely rescue food for America’s hungry in the communities they serve. In 2018, Cumberland Farms, Jacksons, Kum & Go, Loaf N Jug, Kwik Trip, Royal Farms and Sheetz contributed to a total of 75 million pounds of safe, wholesome food donations for the Emerging Retail channel.

How It Works

Food pick-ups are agency-empowered, which means local pantries and shelters are identified by the food bank and pick up the donations as determined by partnership guidelines and individual store donation levels. Typically, 50 to 100 pounds of food per store is rescued weekly. Feeding America first launched pilots at convenience stores and now is poised to grow c-store food rescue considerably, with a keen eye on food safety. The goal is to help orchestrate more than 150 million pounds of c-store donations annually, by 2025.

Feeding America’s team supports the process, from planning and implementation to reporting. Donors receive monthly and quarterly reports that can be used to obtain food donation tax credits.

Feeding America welcomes inquiries from c-stores about food donation programs. To learn more about best practices, how to get started and additional partnership opportunities, visit Feeding America at www.feedingamerica.org.

Retailer Rewards

Two of Feeding America’s c-store partners, Sheetz and Kum & Go, share their perspectives on how the food donation program has benefited their companies.

What are some of the most important things to consider prior to beginning a donation program?

Matt Michrina, sustainability coordinator, Sheetz, Made-to-Share program: You need to have … a strong partner to arrange for the food to be picked up and distributed. Feeding America has been a fantastic partner for Sheetz, providing guidance throughout the process from donation best practices to the on-the-ground work of matching stores with local food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. Their contributions helped us maximize our impact while ensuring a smooth rollout for our stores.

Why develop a program?

Derek Nelson, manager of sustainability at Kum & Go: Food rescue is simply the right thing to do. It’s something that goes above and beyond that helps our communities. It engages our store associates each day and they become part of the solution. As Kum & Go offers healthier and fresh food options to our customers, we have to be a responsible retailer and ensure we are doing what’s right on the back end of our business. By reducing that waste from going to the landfill, not only does it help people facing hunger issues at home, but it helps the environment.

What has been the reaction to your donation program?

Nelson: We have had nothing but positive responses to this program. Our associates love it since they are now assisting on the front lines of fighting food insecurity in their local community. We have witnessed store associates and general managers tear up when we first launched our food rescue program in their stores. Oftentimes they know the recipients, or they themselves may be facing food insecurity. Customers who have heard about us doing this have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the program as well. We hear of them giving their time to serve people in food pantries, helping at their church or other nonprofit organizations. Fighting hunger resonates deeply with them.

How does your food help the community?

Nelson: The largest beneficiary tends to be the agencies we partner with. We hear that our food is providing a third meal for families each day, allowing a senior citizen to free up money to help pay for needed prescriptions, or feeding a child or their siblings through a backpack program at their school. We also hear that our food donations can help a nonprofit agency offset some of its budgeted food expenditures. Those dollars saved then can go toward other programming and assistance for their recipients. It truly is making a positive difference in people’s lives.

Michrina: It has a very direct impact on the communities where we operate. The bulk of the food that we donate consists of ready-to-eat items, including sandwiches, yogurt and snacks. These items provide healthy, nutritious meals to food-insecure families across our footprint. Proper nutrition can increase kids’ performance in school and adults’ performance at work, among countless other benefits, and we’re proud to have the opportunity to be a part of bringing those outcomes to people throughout our service area.

Nelson: One unanticipated benefit was what we saw in terms of “dumpster diving” at our stores. Through our food rescue program, we’ve been able to direct folks who used to search for discarded food in our dumpsters to the local food rescue agency and distribution point—usually within walking distance of the store. This not only helps these folks obtain healthier and safer food, it exposes them to programs and other assistance offered in the community.

What impact can the c-store industry have on hunger?

Nelson: We definitely can [help] end hunger. We provide convenience to our everyday customers. Kum & Go figures out solutions to make people’s days better. This same concept certainly can be applied to other convenience stores, but organizations must be willing and able to do so. Being flexible and innovative and having that willingness to adapt to change are critical. The result is certainly worth it.

Michrina: We are proud to be part of a very strong industry and believe that we can have a huge impact. By addressing food insecurity, we can increase academic and occupational performance and improve the health of our neighbors, which is a no-brainer for an industry that is largely dependent on our communities to survive.

Tony Pupillo

Tony Pupillo is director of Emerging Retail at Feeding America. He can be reached at tpupillo@feedingamerica.org.