Thursday, September 11, 2014

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 4: The Launch

"Paul? Milo and I are sitting here at Bob's Big Boy and wonder if we can buy you breakfast."

"Well, I've already had breakfast but I'll be happy to join you for coffee."

Milo Lacy and I were sitting there one March day in 1986 lamenting over the fact that not a single supermarket chain had said yes to our invitation to take on the FOOD FOR ALL program in their stores. We had been to see the CEOs of Stater Bros. Markets and Alpha Beta Stores and Bonnie Lewis, Public Relations Director of Safeway which was still operating in Southern California. We had sent letters to Lucky Stores, Vons, Ralphs, and several smaller independent chains. We received back a few responses, expressing what a great idea we had, but it just wasn't right for their company, or it wasn't the right time. A couple did not bother to respond. One company even sent us a two hundred dollar check with their regrets at not being able to participate.

Milo, our retired grocery store manager and chief "I told you those grocers would never do this!" board member, was about to deliver his final epitaph on our idea. After more than a year of dreaming, research, and hours and hours of telling everyone within earshot about this "great idea my wife had for raising millions to help end hunger," I just wasn't ready to throw in the towel. No one had as yet come right out and said: "This won't work!" I headed for the phone and called the one grocer who had gone out of his way to encourage and advise us. Paul Gerrard, whose father had been a Redlands grocer, who owned Gerrard's Cypress Center and knew and was known by everyone, it seemed, in the industry. Paul Gerrard, who had told us to come by any time if there was any way we thought he could help.

When Paul joined us, we spent an hour or so laying out everything we had done during the past year and that the only thing holding us back was that none of the companies were saying yes. "It seems like everyone thinks we have a great idea but nobody wants to stick a toe in the water," I said.

He sympathized with us for a while and then: "I guess there's only one way we are going to find out if this will work--you can put your displays in my store."

That was what we had been waiting for. I think Paul knew what he was going to say as soon as he hung up the phone that day. Nothing was going to stop us now. We got our Redlands steering committee together to give them the good news and begin laying plans for the FOOD FOR ALL kickoff event. Several local agencies were designated to be the beneficiaries of the first donations, among them Redlands Family Service and the Salvation Army. Jan Englegretson, editor of The Redlands Daily Facts, was on our committee and helped us design flyers and publicity. Carol Beswick, then mayor, also served on the committee and helped us get letters of endorsement from the movers and shakers in town. Rich Blakley, pastor of Redlands United Church of Christ and one of our founding board members, kept the church copy machine busy cranking out flyers.

Linda was busy getting grassroots support from anti-hunger activists and agencies, as well as lining up volunteers to hand out FOOD FOR ALL information and speak to service clubs and local business people. All I had to do was arrange for the manufacture of the first generation of clunky metal displays to be mounted on checkout stands and hold the FOOD FOR ALL donation cards. Somehow I found a local metal fabricator who made us enough displays for a handful of stores and Redlands Blueprint gave us a reasonable price for printing our first donation cards. I don't remember exactly where we got the funds for those first displays and cards (although Linda reminded me that Rich Blakley got Redlands UCC to give us $1,000), but somehow we paid for them. And those displays, I remember, cost seven dollars each. We would certainly have to find ways to cut that cost down. Our long range plan called for getting food industry companies to pay those costs. So far, no company had volunteered. But then, we were just doing a pilot test project and had not even seen whether anyone would buy a FOOD FOR ALL donation card.

We set May 6 as the kickoff date and planned for a big event in the parking lot of Gerrards. At the same time we sent another round of letters to the supermarket chains then operating in Redlands, thinking that it would be a slam dunk with all the publicity we were getting. They could hardly refuse to participate in a test marketing of a program as simple as this. Especially since our volunteers were doing all the work. But as the weeks went by we continued to receive gracious "no thank you" letters, or none at all. To our amazement, about a week before our scheduled kickoff date, a phone call came from Dick Fredericksen, Vice President of Marketing for Lucky Stores, which had one supermarket in town: "Lucky Stores will be happy to participate in your pilot test of the FOOD FOR ALL program."

We now had two stores. We had to do some quick adjustment for our kickoff event. We were not prepared to bi-locate. So we came up with the idea to have the main event at Gerrards and a second one in front of Lucky the following day. Fortunately, Lucky Stores was located in Buena Park with about 175 stores throughout Southern California, and we were able to give them enough local publicity to satisfy them.

The big day arrived. Paul had arranged for a podium adjacent to the parking lot so customers would be able to park. Speeches were made, dignitaries were introduced and given a few minutes at the mike, the founders told their story briefly, gratitude was expressed to Gerrards for being the first to take this historic step, and then Paul Gerrard gave the official announcement and made the very first FOOD FOR ALL donation at a supermarket checkout stand. Dignitaries lined up behind Paul, followed by volunteers and customers. A big bell was rung as each FOOD FOR ALL card was entered into the cash register. It was a grand event. I don't recall how much was contributed that first day, but it was in the hundreds of dollars.

FFA Opening Gerrards


The next day we had our volunteers lined up for the "ribbon cutting" at the Lucky store (which is now Albertson's) and had a photo op for them and the store manager and a small handful of representative dignitaries. Fortunately, the Redlands Facts gave us front page coverage with photos. Apparently it was enough for Lucky to leave our displays up for the full seven weeks of our test phase, giving us just enough time to plan for an expanded phase of our pilot.

Nearly $7,000 came in from our two stores by July first and we made an announcement of the allocations to a handful of local agencies, gaining even more local publicity. Meanwhile, we had formed a second FOOD FOR ALL local committee for Riverside, being aware that there were three more Lucky Stores and four independent markets who we were able to convince to join our expanded test marketing of the program.

FOOD FOR ALL 1st Allocations

As we were about to announce the second phase of FOOD FOR ALL, one of our volunteers in Redlands called to say: "They took down all the displays at Lucky!" What to do? Panic? Give up? Not an option. We just suggested to everyone who called that they call Lucky Stores in Buena Park and ask them to put the displays back up. Which they did. Enough of them that the President of Lucky became upset. I got a phone call from Dick Fredericksen, the Marketing VP, who asked me to come to Buena Park to meet with Bill Yingling.

The next day I drove to Buena Park and was ushered into Bill's office. Dick introduced me and we spent about two minutes in chit chat. I noticed that the President had a certain flush in his face, which indicated that his blood pressure was still a little elevated. So I leaned forward and with my most winsome smile said to Bill Yingling, President of Lucky Stores: "Well Bill, I guess you probably wish about now that you had never heard of FOOD FOR ALL."

"It's just that I don't like to think that our customers are being badgered to put pressure on us."

I responded with "Bill, all we did was when customers called us to ask why our displays were taken down, suggest that if they liked our program and wanted it to continue, they give their store manager a call." Then Dick Fredericksen came to my defense with "I told Bill you were really not the kind of people who would do anything underhanded." I noticed that Bill was relaxing and knew by the time I left the office that we were getting our second chance. Our second phase of the pilot phase of FOOD FOR ALL was back on track and set to begin in the fall.

Now all we had to do was convince the management of Lucky Stores to take the program chain-wide. But that is another chapter.

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