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Feeding America San Diego finds creative ways for local businesses to give back

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The large task of feeding San Diego’s hungry can’t necessarily be done one donated can of food at a time. Feeding America San Diego, which is San Diego’s largest distributor of food to those in need, has cultivated a range of programs, partnerships and events with local companies to meet the persistent demands of hunger in the region.

This year’s campaigns have ranged from a gala featuring headliners Sheryl Crow and Larry King, to a “food fight” in which local companies faced each other in friendly competition, to the current “Hope for the Holidays” campaign that lets shoppers put their holiday spending to work.

“A lot of companies want to give back, and food is a basic need. We’re really fortunate that a lot of companies get that,” said Jennifer Gilmore, executive director of Feeding America San Diego.

Companies can give their time and manpower, dollars and food donations.

“It’s an incredible team-building experience. We’re one of the few organizations that can accommodate up to 100 volunteers at a time,” Gilmore said, explaining that volunteers are always needed at the distribution center and food pantries, and for bundling food donations like those given to school children through its BackPack Program.

“It’s a hands-on opportunity with instant gratification. The bags we’re loading on Wednesday will be handed out on Friday, to be consumed on Saturday and Sunday,” she said.

An estimated one in five San Diegans, including one in four children, struggle with hunger. According to Feeding America San Diego statistics, nearly 40 percent of so-called “food insecure” people in San Diego are ineligible for federal assistance, but still have trouble affording food for their families.

Feeding America San Diego was established just five years ago. The local Feeding America affiliate estimates it feeds 73,000 people each week -- distributing more than 21.5 million pounds of food within the last year -- with the help of more than 160 partner agencies, school districts, corporate partners and volunteers. The local organization counts money Ralph’s, DLA Piper, Target (NYSE: TGT), and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) among its largest contributors of food and time, according to Gilmore.

This year’s “Finest City Food Fight” garnered the participation of nearly 50 local companies. For the month of September, the companies challenged their employees to donate food, funds and time, ultimately raising more than $15,000, along with 5,000 pounds of food and more than 900 volunteer hours. The winners of the competition were GTC Systems Inc., Moss Adams LLP, and US Foods. Other participants included Anderson Plumbing, Heating and Air, a number of local Old Navy stores, Petco, Ernst & Young, AdEase, Navy Recruiting San Diego, and Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX).

“The competition is incredibly fierce,” Gilmore said. “It gets down to 4:45 p.m. on the last day, and cars are pulling up with food and checks. It’s a fun event.”

Corporate giving takes many forms with Feeding America San Diego. Its star-studded Sunset Soiree at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club in October allowed for corporate sponsorship from the likes of Target, DLA Piper, Cargill and Thomas J. Taylor Construction Inc.

This holiday season, the “Hope for the Holidays” campaign includes support from companies like San Diego-based MOGL, which is donating meals for any purchase over $20 made through its service. Local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf stores are donating $1 to Feeding America San Diego for each bag of Harvest Blend Coffee sold, and the Cheesecake Factory (Nasdaq: CAKE) is donating 25 cents for each Oreo Dream Extreme Cheesecake sold.

Some companies opt to adopt certain initiatives, Gilmore said. Kaiser Permanente, for instance, is helping Feeding America San Diego’s nutritional efforts to bring in more and more produce.

Gilmore anticipates Feeding America San Diego will soon make bigger strides in connecting corporate sponsors with some of San Diego’s many food pantries. The organization is already working with companies to offer makeovers for food pantries that need help with basics like shelving for donated food.

Feeding America San Diego also taps local executives to serve on its board and to serve as planning advisors. “There are some really smart people in San Diego,” Gilmore said.

As a relatively new organization, Feeding America San Diego is still introducing itself to many in the San Diego business community.

“We’re always interested in developing new partnerships and friendships,” Gilmore said. “There’s such a tremendous need, we know that we can’t do it alone.”

-McEntee is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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