Food Industry Actively Participates in Katrina Relief

The food industry actively participates in relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina, donating money and, of course, food.

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By Heidi Parsons, Digital Managing Editor

What do you say to a man who was recently plucked from the attic of his flood-ravaged home after a week of precarious survival? For starters, how about, "here you go," as you hand him a box of ready-to-consume food and beverages?

As the massive relief effort for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina continues, monetary donations continue to come in from across America and from other nations as well. Beyond financial aid, U.S. food processors are also contributing more immediately gratifying - i.e., edible - supplies.

Kraft and Tyson each have pledged more than $1 million in food and financial donations, and PepsiCo has committed $2 million - $1 million for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and $1 million for the Salvation Army. Kellogg has promised $500,000 in food and monetary donations, and Hickory Farms has sent $90,000 worth of products down to the Delta region.

(Nestlé USA and ConAgra Foods have not released information on the value of their contributions, although both firms say they have donated food and money and, like many other firms, are matching employee contributions dollar for dollar.)

"Our donor companies have been incredibly generous," observes Shelly Elfstrom, with America's Second Harvest's food sourcing group. "Some of us are wondering how long the [food] industry will be able to keep up this level of giving."

Relief operations in full swing in Biloxi, Miss. Photo courtesy of America's Second Harvest.

America's Second Harvest, based in Chicago, is the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the U.S. Its network collects food and grocery products - from food processors, retailers, distributors, restaurants and other foodservice entities - and distributes them to its member food banks and other organizations. Those agencies then distribute the food and grocery products to some 35,000 programs that operate 50,000 feeding agencies nationwide.

Without providing specifics, Elfstrom says she's aware that the scope and the urgency of the need for food products have prompted some processors to find creative solutions. For example, she knows of at least one firm that was able to put obsolete packaging materials to use to pack relief-ready product. Other companies are making product specifically for disaster relief, running extra batches of shelf-stable items.

Besides the amount and types of food items donated, the other difference between relief operations and the typical donation process is in how product is transported. Normally, America's Second Harvest sends trucks to pick up product from processing plants. For Gulf Coast disaster relief, processors are providing their own trucks and working with Second Harvest to get the truckloads of food to the distribution sites where they are needed most.

In the thick of it

Geographically speaking, some processors are more directly involved in the Gulf Coast relief effort than others. Kraft Foods' Northfield, Ill., headquarters are a long way from the Mississippi Delta, but the company does have 250 employees and 10 small facilities in the areas devastated by Katrina. Kraft spokesperson Kris Charles says the firm's facilities - not processing plants but freezer depots and direct-store-delivery operations - sustained relatively minor damage, but the biggest relief to Kraft is that all of its area employees are safe.

As of mid-September, Kraft had sent 13 truckloads of beverages, snacks, cookies and other non-perishables to the Gulf Coast. Charles says Kraft headquarters and plant staff are working together to determine what sorts of in-kind food and beverage products they can continue to send. The remainder of Kraft's contribution is financial, with grants going to Second Harvest, AmeriCares and the American Red Cross.

Tyson Foods has gone into the Katrina relief effort with both barrels. With four of its facilities (and several allied feed mills, hatcheries and contract growers) located in hard-hit sections of Mississippi, Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson had no choice but to take this crisis personally.

"This disaster really hit home to us, because four plants and thousands of our team members, as well as the communities they live in, were directly affected by Katrina," notes Tyson spokesperson Gary Mickelson. "Within hours after the hurricane left, we had several truckloads of food, water and ice down in central Mississippi."

Within a day or two, Tyson employees from Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas had pitched in, bringing generators, food and other supplies to the towns of Carthage, Forest and Vicksburg, Miss. They established teams of people to cook and serve meals, not just for Tyson employees, but for all the storm victims in those areas.

By Sept. 1, Tyson had also donated several truckloads of pre-cooked and shelf-stable meats to the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross; sent a truckload of product to Jackson, Miss.; and provided food and a truck to transport a mobile kitchen to Prairieville, La., so that a disaster relief group could prepare meals for storm refugees there.

Since then, Tyson also has sent truckloads of food to evacuee centers in Baton Rouge, La., and Fort Chaffee and Pine Bluff, Ark. The company is matching dollar-for-dollar donations to relief efforts from its 114,000 team members. Most importantly from a long-term recovery standpoint, Tyson is offering employment opportunities (including relocation assistance, transportation and temporary housing) to evacuees who are looking for jobs. This is not a quiet, web site-based effort, but one that has been promoted via press releases and during a Katrina relief telethon broadcast on Black Entertainment Television (BET). Tyson has established a toll free number – 1-800-424-WORK – through which job seekers may apply.

For more on Second Harvest, including how to donate food, see About America's Second Harvest, below.


Second Harvest's Disaster Relief Statistics (as of Sept. 19)
Semi truckloads carrying food & grocery products 889
Pounds of food and grocery delivered 29 million
Estimated number of meals available 23 million*
Cash and pledges raised $15 million
Estimated value of food and grocery products $43.2 million
Approximate number of people displaced 1 million
   
* Numbers reflect both donated and purchased product  


About America's Second Harvest

America's Second Harvest is the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the U.S. In 1979, its first year of operation, Second Harvest distributed 2.5 million pounds of food to a network of 13 food banks. Today, the national network secures and distributes nearly two billion pounds of food and grocery products to more than 200 regional food banks and relief organizations in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

The underlying principle of America's Second Harvest is feeding our nation's hungry by reducing food waste. Second Harvest's network collects and distributes food and grocery products – from food processors, retailers and distributors as well as restaurants and other foodservice entities – and to its member food banks and food rescue organizations. Those agencies then distribute food and grocery products to some 35,000 programs that operate 50,000 feeding agencies nationwide.

Manufacturers who would like to join the Hurricane Katrina relief effort or establish a partnership with Second Harvest may call the national office at 1-800-771-2303. To donate a full truckload of shelf-stable product, ask for the Food Sourcing Dept.; to contribute transportation services, ask for the Logistics Dept.

Corporate Product and Transporation Donors (as listed at www.secondharvest.org)

Allen Canning Corporation
American Rice, Inc.
Apple & Eve
Authentic Specialty Foods
Barbara's Bakery
Barilla America, Inc.
Basic American Foods
B & G Foods Inc.
Bravo Foods
Bush Brothers & Company
Cadbury Schweppes Americas
Campbell Soup Company
Carisam Samuel Meisel
Central States Distribution
CCI Industries
Chefs Requested/RDS
Chevron Corporation
Chicken of the Sea International
Chiquita Brands International
Cimino Brothers Produce
The Clorox Company
Coca-Cola North America
Columbia Fresh Produce
ConAgra Foods
Cumberland Gap
Dole Packaged Foods Company
Ember Farms
Empire Kosher Poultry
Fairbault Foods
Farmland Foods
Fellow Manufacturing
Florida's Natural Growers
Fresh Direct
Gold Kist, Inc.
Gusto Packing Company
Hinsdale Farms
Hormel Foods Corporation
Kashi
Kellogg Company
Keystone Foods
Kraft Foods
Lodi Canning
Malt-O-Meal
Michael Foods, Inc.
Mission Foods
National Peanut Board
Nestlé USA and Nestlé Hand-Held Foods Group
Old Wisconsin Sausage
Organic Valley
Ottenberg's Bakers
Perdue Farms
The Procter & Gamble Company
Quaker Food & Beverages Company
Sara Lee Foods
Schwan's
SeaShare
Seneca Foods Corporation
Smithfield Packing
The J.M. Smucker Company
Sunny Cal Fruit
Sun Rich, LLC
Uncle Ben's (Masterfoods USA)
Unilever Bestfoods
West Farm Foods
Western Bagel
World Finer Foods

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