The Feeding America network is fortunate to have steadfast retail partners who on a daily basis donate products from their stores. The food provided is typically nutritious. The flow of food is steady and consistent. In some parts of the U.S., store donations are picked up seven days a week. Great relationships are formed between store personnel and food banks, and in many cases between store personnel and charitable agencies.
The expression, “seeing is believing,” reinforces the impact retailers have on reducing hunger in their communities. When retail employees have a chance to walk into a food bank or a charitable agency and volunteer to sort, inspect, and process food donations into boxes or categories, these employees become even more aware of what can be donated and are instilled with a fresh level of pride and appreciation for their employer’s commitment to ensuring good food doesn’t go to waste but rather, ends up on the plates of people in need.
Below are two recent examples of retail employees’ volunteer experiences.
H-E-B – Employees Volunteer and Sort Their Own Store-Level Donations
Amado Aguilar, store sonations coordinator for the Food Bank of Corpus Christi knows a thing or two about retail operations. Mr. Aguilar retired from H-E-B after 45 years of service. During his 45 years, he spent approximately 20 years as a Produce Supervisor along with being a Unit Director in several stores for this Texas-based retailer. After being retired for about five years, Mr. Aguilar joined the Food Bank of Corpus Christi as inventory coordinator and now works exclusively on securing more donations from grocery stores including from his former employer.
One of the best aspect of Mr. Aguilar’s job is visiting grocery stores and reminding department managers and their teams that there is a selling quality for their products, and there is an eating quality. For example, a slightly bruised apple or red pepper may be donated without concern that it will be rejected or go unused by a hungry Texan. Typically, what is donated from a grocery store – whether it is fresh produce or fresh milk - is consumed by a hungry person within 24 to 72 hours.
Another rewarding aspect of Mr. Aguilar’s role at the Food Bank of Corpus Christi is witnessing retail employees from H-E-B, Walmart and other retailers volunteer at the food bank. H-E-B and Walmart stores both have employees and associates that volunteer at the food bank on a regular basis whether it is as a group, individually or sometimes along with their families.
One of the jobs for the H-E-B volunteers is sorting through donations that have come from their stores. The H-E-B employees see firsthand how their product is handled but more importantly how the donated product is helping feed people facing hunger. Packaging is checked to ensure there aren’t rips or tears, frozen protein is inspected to ensure it still looks edible, and produce items are reviewed to ensure nothing is in a state of messy decay. Mr. Aguilar is working with H-E-B to set up more group volunteers in addition to the stores that have already set up a once-a-month schedule. In making presentations to H-E-B department managers, Mr. Aguilar encourages all departments to not only volunteer but to use that volunteer time as a team building activity.
BJ’s Wholesale Clubs – Volunteering and Team Building
In February, two BJ’s Wholesale Clubs headed over to Feeding America Tampa Bay to volunteer. BJ’s Club #183 partnered with BJ’s Club #128 and participated in a “Sorting Party” at the Feeding America Tampa Bay’s warehouse. Team members sorted food donations and packed boxes of groceries for those in need.
It was a team effort with everyone working together on an assembly line to complete the job. The BJ’s team started out with six heaping pallets of food donated from local Tampa-area businesses. BJ’s volunteers sorted the food from those pallets into cases that were separated into 23 different product categories. Part of their job included quality control – checking packaging with punctures, inspecting canned items to ensure they were not bloated or pitted with rust, and making sure no item was too crushed or dented.
*Photo: BJ's employees club from stores #128 and #183 volunteer at Feeding America Tampa Bay.
**Diane Letson is the director of product sourcing, retail partnerships at Feeding America.