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.


  1. What a treat it is to have the benefit of your memory and recall such wonderful, industrious times. I am SO enjoying these posts, MellowMan

  2. Never realized the bar codes had not been on the cards from the very beginning of the program. Reading your blog made me think about the challenges involved in 1) accounting for the funds with no bar codes and 2) getting all the cards out of circulation that didn't have a bar code once the technological accounting miracle of Certified Grocers took place.