Saturday, November 22, 2014

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 10: A Mixed Bag of Blessing

Growing FOOD FOR ALL in the food industry had a big learning curve. We installed a point-of-sale program in 200 supermarkets on the basis of having UPC (bar) codes on our cards and we did not yet have permission to print them on our cards. Retailers had to assign a cash register number code and have the checkout people tear off a stub for each transaction and turn these in to their bookkeeper each day. The bookkeepers in turn would have to count the stubs and reconcile them with the day’s cash register receipts, after which they were sent in to the accounting department so that a check could be cut and sent to the FOOD FOR ALL office in Redlands. We then had to track the receipts from each store so we could make grants to local hunger programs located in the area where the donations originated. This was the way we operated the FOOD FOR ALL program for the first year and a half. We were lucky that Lucky Stores was willing to stay with us for the first couple of years, as well as Waldbaum’s Food Mart in New England and the growing number of independent markets we were able to attract.

Lucky’s involvement was primarily thanks to Dick Fredericksen’s support and Nancy Chandler’s championing of our cause. Nancy, Director of Public Relations, was an elegant and classy lady who was in our corner from the beginning. She had a little cubicle of an office in Lucky’s Buena Park headquarters, where I was always welcomed warmly. Nancy never sought the limelight for herself, but saw her role as that of making sure the people she worked for got the credit for every one of her successes. She was the go-to person at Lucky. I felt fortunate to have Nancy take me under her wing. Which is why I still remember vividly that day in November of 1988, not long after leaving Nancy’s office, getting a call from Dick Fredericksen’s office, informing me that Nancy, on her way home from work, had a heart attack as she pulled her car to the side of the street, and died within a few hours.

Nancy Chandler Portrait Photo

Photo of Nancy Chandler Portrait Painted by her Husband, David

It took us some time to get back on track. There were several days and weeks of recovering from the shock. Nancy was a beloved member of the Lucky Stores family. Linda and I attended her memorial service and made further acquaintance with her family. We had already met Nancy’s son Bill, who was Mayor Tom Bradley’s Press Secretary, and who would later take the same position on Senator Diane Feinstein’s staff. Her husband David and daughter Deborah would also become close to us as we established an annual Nancy Chandler Memorial Grant, funded by Lucky Stores, to be given to an outstanding charity making an impact on hunger.

David and Deborah Chandler  FFT 90 Feb 1

David and Deborah Chandler and the First Nancy Chandler Grant

We were fortunate that Nancy had somehow established us FOOD FOR ALL folk as part of the “Lucky family,” so that Karen Sturgeon, Vice President of Advertising and Nancy’s boss, took us on, if not with total enthusiasm, at least with her assurance of ongoing support. It also helped that we were at the right place at the right time in assisting Karen to find the right person to fill Nancy’s position. We had met Bonnie Lewis, public relations person for Safeway Stores, early on in our presentation of the FOOD FOR ALL idea. When Safeway left the Southern California market, Bonnie was out of a job. I suggested to her one day that she apply for the job at Lucky. She did and got the job. And while no one could replace Nancy, Bonnie became a good friend and assisted us on many occasions with promotions and running interference when we needed her help.

Our UPC bar code dilemna was solved for us by a chance encounter with an independent supermarket owner at a food industry trade show in Long Beach. Our food industry advisors got us invitations to a number of conventions as exhibitors, free of charge, from the early years onward. California Grocers Association sponsored a big event each year that alternated between Reno and Las Vegas. The Food Marketing Institute, the lobbying arm of the grocers, held a huge trade show at the Chicago Convention Center annually. Bill Christy, President of Certified Grocers of California, destined to become an important member of our Board of Directors, got us a place in their annual show at the Long Beach Convention Center. These shows were instrumental in getting us exposure, although we didn’t actually get any signups on the spot. That required making a pitch to each one, whether a large chain or a one-store operator.

Ray Ziff, whose father owned a store in Los Angeles, came by our booth and as we chatted I told him of the difficulty we were having getting the UPC Code Council to allow us to use the bar codes on our donation cards. He looked at me a little quizzically and said, “That’s no problem. I can tell you exactly how to get them. Why don’t you ask Certified Grocers for them?” The thought had not crossed my mind. How come none of our food industry advisors had been able to advise us on this issue? I asked Bill Christy for an appointment and told him what Ray Ziff had told me, and posed the question “Could Certified loan us the numbers we need?” Bill got an ‘I’m not sure’ look and picked up his phone to call his IT department head. When he hung up the phone we had our UPC codes, on permanent loan from Certified Grocers. Problem solved!

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Well, not quite. We had about a million donation cards distributed in more than 200 locations at an average of ten check stands each. We still didn’t have the funds to just print all new cards. So we devised the plan. Lucky Stores would, on one day, have each store manager package all of our donation cards and have them trucked in to the Buena Park warehouse. I would drive our 1970 VW bus down and pick them up, bring them back to Redlands, and have volunteers transfer from rolls of printed bar codes, fifty cent, dollar, and five dollar, to the bottom of the cards, one by one. Good plan. Except I had not anticipated exactly how these million cards would be packaged. Naturally, they showed up in plastic grocery bags at the warehouse, and were dumped all together into a huge dumpster. I don’t remember how many trips I made just to transport them to our office, all in a two-day period. You can also imagine that a few of the cards were in no shape to go back to the stores. Nonetheless, our handful of volunteers, working hour after hour, had all the cards correctly bar-coded within a couple of days. And FOOD FOR ALL was back in business. I can’t remember exactly how we handled the rest of the stores, but eventually donation cards were being scanned at all of our markets.

FOOD FOR ALL Dollar card   FOOD FOR ALL bar-coded card

Now it was time to go back to expanding into more supermarkets.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 9: Building the Infrastructure

By the end of 1987 the FOOD FOR ALL "supermarket customer contribution program to help end hunger" (one of my elevator speeches to try to describe what we were about) had indeed been launched in 36 Waldbaum's Food Mart stores in Connecticut and was averaging over two thousand dollars a week, thanks to the enthusiastic reception by the company's staff, store employees and customers. I don't remember how many trips I made to Hartford during the months from November to the summer of 1988, but we were able to grant almost $25,000 to seventeen local anti-hunger agencies by the end of our fiscal year. This in addition to the 120 local grants totaling $169,000 throughout southern California, and $65,000 to 10 international development programs.

Waldbaum's 87 4 (2)  Waldbaum's 87

How did we do it? I had to go back to our published annual report for fiscal year 1987-88 and was filled with humble pride at the unexplainable happening that was revealed there. In 238 participating supermarkets, customers had contributed $367,466. We had received more than $125,000 in seed grants from 16 foundations, corporations and religious organizations, as well as donated services equal to nearly $20,000. I was under no illusion that this was due in any significant measure to what a smart guy I was, or how many long hours I had put in to get this project moving. I did note, however, that one of the corporate contributions was a $5,000 grant from the General Mills Foundation, which I am willing to acknowledge as partly a result of my visit.

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I am now quoting from the Message from the President (me) column in that annual report:

All of us concerned about hunger have been keenly aware that each year growing numbers of people are in need of emergency food assistance, many of them women and children and many of them employed, but at low paying jobs. At the same time, organizations that assist those needing help have suffered severe cutbacks in food donations and financial support. This is evidence of a radical shift of responsibility for solving major problems such as hunger, lack of housing, and unemployment from the federal to the local community level. Yet the resources to deal with these problems have not been generated; the local community will has not been mobilized; the effective strategies have not been devised to meet this challenge.

This was the context for how we developed the FOOD FOR ALL program from the beginning. Working with our eight member board of directors, our nine member Food Industry Advisory Board, our nine member Funds Distribution Advisory Board, and our small and under-paid staff of four (plus me, who got to be President in lieu of a salary), we went back to our years with the Institute of Cultural Affairs where we developed and implemented methods of grassroots participation. Out of this combination of taking an "idea whose time had come," some retail grocers willing to take a chance, and a growing network of volunteers captivated by the vision of a hunger-free future, came the three strategies that would characterize FOOD FOR ALL for the next decade. Again, I turn to our above-mentioned annual report to jog my memory.

1) Generating new financial resources to be distributed strategically

This of course was the year-round program of check stand contributions that gave grocery shoppers the chance to give a small donation every time they buy food for their families. We determined from the beginning that only 10% of shopper contributions would go for maintaining the organization, and that of the 90% going to grants, three-fourths would go to local programs in the area where they were contributed, and one-fourth would go to long-term solutions to hunger internationally. The way local grants were made was by what were known as Local Grant Advisory Boards, made up of volunteers from the local areas willing to be trained to review grant applications, make site visits to local applicants and make recommendations to FOOD FOR ALL's board. International grants were made through a similar process by our Funds Distribution Advisory Board.

During the 1987-88 fiscal year there were fourteen Local Grant Advisory Boards in Southern California and three in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

2) Increasing grassroots involvement in ending hunger

This was in many ways the heart of the FOOD FOR ALL program. Before we conducted the first test in a supermarket, we operated with the conviction that it would be critical to involve all sorts of grassroots folk in all aspects, from deciding how money was to be applied to the hunger issue to sustaining the program at the "point of sale." We developed several sub-strategies to keep FOOD FOR ALL front and center in people's minds.

Through FOOD FOR ALL'S Adopt-A-Store program, community organizations commit to working with nearby stores to increase customer participation. Adopters now include religious organizations, corporation employee groups, service clubs, junior and senior high student groups, families and friends, and small businesses. (FFA 1987-88 annual report)

Consumer education was also important, so a speakers' bureau offered an educational program which graphically depicted how hunger affects everyone and attempted to motivate people with ideas of how they could take individual and group action, with FOOD FOR ALL as our example of a simple way anyone could participate. Over time we would involve hundreds, perhaps thousands of volunteers as "store ambassadors," customers and sometimes employees at each supermarket, who would do periodic simple promotions with a table inside or outside the store entrance and who would become our watchers of displays, reporters of any issues that needed to be addressed at "their store," and educators of customers, store managers and employees about FOOD FOR ALL.

3) Building consensus for action

FOOD FOR ALL finds out what local people think about hunger and its solutions through . . . an ongoing Think Tank process which begins when FOOD FOR ALL is introduced in a new area. The Think Tanks involve a broad range of people concerned about hunger in a strategic planning process through which participants articulate their vision of a hunger-free society, identify current barriers, determine new directions, and recommend funding strategies for the coming year. (FFA 1987-88 annual report)

These events provided us with the guidance that made decisions about applying FOOD FOR ALL grants toward more than "band-aid" short-term approaches. We realized early on that it is more difficult to give money away than to raise it. One political campaign should make that crystal clear to anyone who "has ears to hear." The introductory Think Tank was followed by an annual review and update to the strategies and funding priorities for that area.


A third component of the Consensus for Action program is a regional conference focused on "sharing models of effective local action." (FFA 1987-88 annual report)

As of the end of June, 14 Think Tanks on hunger had been held in southern California. Three were already scheduled for New England, and plans for a series in northern California, where we were planning to expand during the coming year. We were fortunate that we had the ongoing connection with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA), the organization Linda and I and Georgianna McBurney had been with for many years. The ICA provided facilitators, usually pro bono, for many of these events. Linda was the staff person in charge of all the volunteer programs of FOOD FOR ALL, with an enormous number of hours of assistance from Georgianna and Helen Anderson, a retired school teacher in Orange County, who spent the next decade as a full-time FOOD FOR ALL volunteer. There are others I could mention, and some I omit because of faulty memory. Diane Adams comes to mind. Diane, a Redlands housewife and mother, was a miracle-worker for FOOD FOR ALL's World Food Day events, coordinating hundreds of volunteers in a single day promotional event at all of our participating stores, as well as our speakers' bureau presentations.

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Jenny Foster, above right, and Diane Adams below right

I can't leave this episode in the FOOD FOR ALL story without paying tribute to its founder, Executive Vice President and my wife and life partner, Linda, who managed virtually everything aside from board of directors recruitment and development and marketing to the food industry, which was my assigned area. Linda also wrote almost all of the grant applications for seed money to support the organization during this critical phase. Along with Linda, our staff during this time included Jenny Foster, office manager, who would be with us for the next 10 years and continue on even after Linda and I left the organization. Jenny brought so much to making things work, and also got us an indispensable asset, her husband Ev, who was a systems administrator for San Bernardino County, and who single-handedly designed the financial tracking and accounting system for the store contributions coming in from supermarkets. To round out our small staff, Norma Stumreiter, now deceased, served as our bookkeeper for a couple of years, and Lance Ternasky, a friend and local educator, was a part-time program coordinator.

FOOD FOR ALL was now on the way to a feast and famine future. I can't wait to continue the story.