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VOL. 125 | NO. 173 | Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Giving Back

Initiative helps longtime nonprofit

SUSAN AGEE | Special to The Daily News

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Clinton Tibbs, right, of the Mid-South Food Bank and Dennis Hoskins prepare food palates for shipment to the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Mississippi.
Photos: Lance Murphey

Corporate giving is alive in Memphis despite the economy.

That giving spirit has been seen in the work done by the Mid-South Food Bank, where emergency food is provided for an estimated 186,500 people annually. The Food Bank serves nearly 300 feeding programs in 31 Mid-South counties. So with all that food, it has to come from somewhere.

And that’s where companies ranging from grocery stores to restaurants to even the Memphis Redbirds get involved.

This past baseball season The Kroger Co. and the Redbirds teamed up for Kroger Strike Out Hunger. On Tuesdays, game attendees could bring five canned food items to the box office at AutoZone Park and receive either a free bluff ticket or $5 credit toward another seating level. All donations went to the Mid-South Food Bank.

One company, though, decided to get creative last month when the Midtown Outback Steakhouse encouraged its employees to attend the game together on a Tuesday night with canned goods in hand. In all, 52 employees from the restaurant descended upon AutoZone Park with 1,100 pounds of canned goods to donate to the Food Bank.

Outback owner Kevin Luke was planning the once-a-month outing for his employees and their families, and he heard about the Tuesday night food drives.

Sybil Cressey, from left, Anita Corbitt and Cindy Bichon gather food supplies in the Food Pantry at the Mid-South Food Bank on Thursday.

“I wanted to take them to a ballgame and I found that if we donated some food we’d get tickets to the game,” he said. “So I used the money I typically spend on an outing for them to buy canned goods. My staff wanted to contribute too, so they brought their own cans.”

The Kroger Strike Out Hunger campaign was initiated by Redbirds marketing manager Jody Sellers. This was the first year of the effort.

The Kroger Strike Out Hunger campaign has a dual purpose, Sellers said. It’s an opportunity to accumulate lots of food for the hungry, but it also puts the hunger cause more into the public awareness.

For every 1.25 pounds of food donated, one family can be fed. In the case of Luke and his Outback employees, their 1,100 pounds of food will make approximately 900 meals.

The total amount of food the Kroger Strike Out Hunger campaign generated for the Food Bank through last week’s Redbirds season finale was 3,939 pounds, according to the Mid-South Food Bank. That will create 3,151 meals.

The Cincinnati-based grocery chain Kroger is one of the local Food Bank’s main supporters and reciprocally, the Food Bank is one of Kroger’s primary charitable focuses.

Among the programs Kroger sponsors are Bringing Hope to the Table and Kids Can. Bringing Hope to the Table allows customers to load e-coupons onto their Kroger cards, enabling local Kroger stores to donate $30,000 in cash to the Food Bank.

The program also encourages awareness of the hunger problem in the U.S. through its partnership with Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Kids Can is a competition for elementary and middle school children to bring canned goods as donations to the Food Bank. This is the 23rd year Kroger has sponsored the Kids Can drive.

Kroger has a history of using business profits to help the hungry. Founder Barney Kroger started the tradition by donating bread in 1883 and the company has continued its efforts ever since.

As a founding member of Feeding America, Kroger not only runs the Bringing Hope to the Table and Kids Can programs, but it also has donation cards available at every register to allow customers the opportunity to contribute.

The checkout cards raise about $80,000 per year, according to the company.

“We always participate in the Food Bank promotions, either by cash, product or advertising effort,” said Kroger’s Delta division spokeswoman Whitney Atkins, who added that helping the hungry is a natural extension of the grocery chain’s business.

The Delta division, which includes stores in a five-state area, has a large impact with the program because of its wide reach.

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