In two years, Weaver Street Market shoppers, owners, and workers have donated $216,000 for fresh groceries through the Community Food Partnerships. In January 2015, WSM formed the partnership with four hunger-relief organizations—PORCH, TABLE, Interfaith Council (IFC), and Orange Congregations in Mission (OCIM)—as a way for the WSM community to help the organizations provide healthy food for those in need in our communities, particularly children, low-income families, and families in crisis. Rather than donate packaged and canned food, we asked our shoppers to donate the fresh healthy food they valued for their own families.
Our shoppers responded at a level we had never imagined! Shoppers donated $83,000 in three two-week campaigns in 2015—”Bags of Produce” for PORCH’s Food for Families, “Backpacks for Kids” for TABLE’s Summer Program, and “Bags of Apples” for IFC and OCIM’s food pantries. For our three 2016 campaigns, we promoted the campaigns more broadly, switched the “Bags of Apples” campaign to our first Round Up! campaign, to test the appeal of small donations from numerous shoppers, and hoped to raise 20% more than the first year. We raised $133,000, an increase of 60%!
Overall, we’ve raised a two-year total of $216,045. WSM has used 100% of the funds to source more than 200,900 pounds of fresh food for our partners. For PORCH, the fresh groceries filled more than 2,500 40-pound boxes of produce for refugee families from Burma. For TABLE, the fresh groceries filled more than 5,300 backpacks for the kids in the summer backpack program.
We’ve been asked what makes the campaigns so successful. We think it’s about trust and connections. PORCH organizer Debbie Horwitz has observed, “People are more apt to give when they know the people who are asking.” Our community trusts WSM to turn their donations into fresh, healthy food, and through the campaigns there is an intimate connection among our community members who donate and the hunger-relief organizations that connect the food with our neighbors in need. (To learn more about WSM’s role in the campaigns, see the information box at the end of the blog.)
We’d like to create a sustainable funding source for our food partners. We checked in with our food partners at the beginning of the year as we prepared for our 2017 food campaigns. What we heard was much gratitude for the WSM shoppers who continue to support the hunger-relief programs. There was also a humble acknowledgment that the organizations hoped they could rely on our food campaigns as a sustainable funding source. Each of the organizations wants to maintain the level of service it’s able to provide as a result of the Community Food Partnerships.
“Bags of Produce” Campaigns Help Grow PORCH’s Food for Families Program. PORCH organizers Christine Cotton and Debbie Horwitz reported that because of our campaigns, they have increased both the amount of fresh food given to their families and the number of families in their Food for Families program, which grew from 270 to 350 in two years. The program now provides a week’s worth of groceries once a month for over 1,560 individuals.
Horwitz noted that WSM cleared a huge logistical drain on the all-volunteer organization by sourcing, sorting and packing, storing, and delivering the fresh produce to the client pickup site for the refugee families. PORCH also provides non-perishable items for 12 food pantries and snacks for 20 public schools.
“Backpacks for Kids” Campaigns More Than Cover TABLE’s Summer Programs. Ashton Tippins, executive director for TABLE, reported that the donations raised through our backpack campaigns fully funded the 2015 and 2016 summer backpack programs, and last year’s donations enabled TABLE to extend the summer program from 7 to 10 weeks for 374 kids. There were enough funds remaining to provide food for backpacks into the school year’s weekend program.
With continued support through our backpack campaign, TABLE anticipates enrolling 450 kids in this year’s summer backpack program. TABLE is hosting a pilot meeting with a group of parents of kids receiving backpack food. We’ll work with Ashton and Laura Dille to determine the healthy food to be included in this summer’s backpacks.
“Round Up!” Campaign Brings Fresh Vegetables and Fruit to the Food Pantries at IFC and OCIM. Our 2015 “Bags of Apples” campaign provided bags of apples for the families being served by IFC and OCIM for more than the estimated 12 months due to the excellent pricing we secured. For our 2016 campaign we switched to a “Round Up!” food campaign in hopes of raising enough funds to provide additional fruit and vegetables for the pantries. We asked shoppers to Round Up! their total bill to the nearest dollar, donating the extra to the food pantries. More than 82,500 times our shoppers rounded up, for donations surpassing $43,500. That’s 234% higher than the previous year’s apple campaign.
We loved the Round Up! campaign because it made a big impact with small donations that anyone can make. We are investigating this model to use in the future as a sustainable option to raise money for other food campaigns.
WSM’s Role in the Food Campaigns
WSM runs the food campaigns “on behalf of” our community food partners. Every penny raised—100%— is used to purchase fresh food that we deliver weekly or monthly, depending on the program. WSM absorbs all the costs associated with the campaigns and sourcing the food:
- Our marketing team creates campaigns that align with our shoppers’ value of fresh, healthy food, and they create fun ways to donate at any level. The visual displays in the stores help create the feeling of making a difference together. The campaigns are promoted heavily on social media.
- We have enthusiastic and knowledgeable campaign coordinators at each store and at our food house who communicate with staff about the campaign, particularly about the needs of our food partners and the impact we make with the food donations.
- Our tireless cashiers engage shoppers at the register, informing them of the campaign, and asking them if they’d like to participate.
- Our merchandising team starts sourcing the food from our food vendors even before the first donation is raised. Some of our vendors offer special pricing or donate the food when they learn about the food campaigns.
- Our demo team comes up with healthy and tasty recipes that use the campaign food. While sampling the food in the stores, demo staff partner with volunteers from our food partners to promote the campaign.
- We have staff and volunteers who help sort and box the food for delivery to our food partners. Others volunteer at the organizations.
- Our distribution staff handles the logistics of receiving and storing the food to keep the quality the same as the food we sell. Then, they deliver the pallets of fresh food to the client pick-up sites or organization offices.
- Our finance team manages the funds we raise for the organizations, paying only invoices for food with the donated funds. (WSM pays for any bank fees associated with donations—about 70% of the donations are made with bank cards.)