“A Laser Focus on Hunger”

Antioch University New England’s Net Impact chapter, along with help from staff and faculty, launched the “Perpetual Food Pledge”. The goal is to stabilize food donations because “hunger is perpetual”
From: Antioch University New England
March 5th, 2012 | 0 Comments

Food insecurity is an issue for too many Americans.  In 2010, 48.8 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children.   In 2010, 14.5 percent of households (17.2 million households) were food insecure.(Hunger inAmerica, 2012). Fortunately, corporations and individuals are trying to respond to this growing challenge in our country.

Each year hundreds of organizations and businesses encourage employees and customers to donate nonperishable food during the holidays.  The collection boxes emerge in stores, banks, insurance companies and schools.  Together these organizations make extraordinary contributions to local food shelves and food banks that then distribute food to people in need.  Yet, where do all the food collection boxes go after the holidays? Do donations continue to pour in? The New Hampshire Food, which supports over 400 food banks in NH, notes that donations drop off so precipitously in January- March that they have to put food and financial resources aside during the holidays to get through the leaner donation months.

In order to start addressing this challenge of inconsistent donations, Antioch University New England’s Net Impact chapter, along with help from staff and faculty, launched the “Perpetual Food Pledge”. The goal is to stabilize food donations because “hunger is perpetual”.

The Perpetual Food Pledge asks people to sign a no fee pledge that says…”As long as I enjoy the privilege of food security, each time I shop for my own groceries I pledge to purchase a healthy non-perishable food item for members of my community who are food insecure.”

Participants then drop off their donations atAntiochor any other place that is a drop off for food donations. The interest in the pledge has been growing as people see how easy it is to incorporate the pledge into their weekly grocery shopping.  In one organization, food donations quadrupled in three weeks. People are starting to appreciate the need for food donations all year round not just during the holidays.

The Perpetual Food Pledge is responding to a need. The students are making a difference in addressing food insecurity and finding tremendous interest and support in the pledge. Both the regional Chamber of Commerce and New Hampshire Business for Social Responsibility have shown interest in launching this initiative for their members.  But is this model sustainable?  Is it strategic? Is it really getting at the root causes of hunger?   How do organizations and their employees assess how to allocate resources to community needs?   How can they have the biggest community impact?

One company that has tremendous impact on hunger is C&S Wholesale Grocers.   They describe themselves as…. “The lead supply chain company in the food industry today – and the largest wholesale grocery supply company in the U.S. We supply independent supermarkets, chain stores and institutions with over 95,000 different products – from more than 50 high-tech facilities, delivering everything from seafood to soup to soap. In fact, if it belongs on a supermarket shelf, it’s probably moving through a C&S warehouse right now.”   Four years ago C&S adopted a corporate social responsibility strategic plan that focuses their efforts on four core initiatives:  eliminating hunger, strengthening communities, protecting our environment and encouraging volunteerism (Goff, 2012).

This plan propels them to go deep with the issue of hunger in particular, and to support “three of the nation’s foremost hunger alleviation organizations through donations and investments:  Feeding America, Share our Strength and Congressional Hunger Center”.   By having a “laser like focus on one aspect of an issue” like child hunger, and one that’s in line with business interests, they are able to truly make a difference (Goff, 2012).

In 2010, Wal-Mart kicked off a five-year, $2 billion pledge to fight hunger in theU.S., which includes 1.7 billion pounds of food donations and $250 million in philanthropic support.

The Yum Brand, who oversees Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut, also focus on hunger.  Their signature World Hunger relief program (WFP) in partnership with UN World Program was launched in 2007.  Company employees have volunteered 21 million hours to aid hunger relief worldwide.  They have raised nearly $85 million for WFP while providing over 350 million meals.

These large corporations are having huge impact on addressing food insecurity but how can smaller businesses develop impactful strategic corporate social responsibility plans?  A lesson learned from corporate CSR leaders is to develop a strategic plan that is in line with the business interests.  Food is YUMS, C&S and Wal-Mart’s’ interest.

The question is where does a well-intentioned program like the Perpetual Food Pledge fit with strategic corporate social responsibility plan?   Should a small university be dabbling in hunger if it really wants to make a difference or should or should we leverage our “business interests” and stay focused on philanthropy in the education realm?

Author:  Polly Chandler, Chairperson of Department of Management and Program Director MBA in Sustainability. AntiochUniversityNew England,Keene,NH.