30 Years of Generosity in the Fight Against Hunger
02/06/2023 · Health
This year marks the 30th anniversary of our Check Out Hunger customer scan campaign that, with the support and generosity of customers and employees, has raised more than $50 million for hunger relief since 1993.
How it Started
Mary Ellen Burris, then director of consumer affairs for Wegmans, announced the new program in one of her weekly columns in January 1993: “Just about everything you buy these days is scanned at the checkout…food, clothing, flowers, snow shovels…it’s one of the greatest breakthroughs for customers and merchants in the past two decades. Now, through a program called ‘Check Out Hunger,’ you can even scan a contribution that will help area agencies feed the hungry.”
The idea to rollout a customer scan campaign originated from Foodlink, the Feeding America food bank serving the Greater Rochester, New York region, after they learned of a similar program at a small food bank in New Jersey. Our long history of supporting food banks made the decision to sign on as a premier sponsor of the program an easy one, and we were joined by five other major grocery chains in the area.
“People don’t always realize that, in the grand scheme of things, food banks haven’t been around for all that long,” explains Linda Lovejoy, Wegmans community relations manager.
The nation’s first food bank, St. Mary’s Food Bank, was developed in Phoenix, Arizona, in the late 1960s. By 1977, food banks had only been established in 18 cities across the country.
“Our support of food banks dates back to 1978, when conversations first started between Mary Ellen, Tom Ferraro – who at the time, was with Action for a Better community and soon after started Foodlink – and other community leaders about the need to address hunger in the community,” Linda explains. “In Rochester that year, we started by donating baked goods from our central bakery, and by 1982, we were partnering with hunger relief organizations everywhere we had stores.”
The Growing Need
By 1993, we were donating about 1.5 million pounds of perishable and packaged food to Foodlink each year. But despite food donations from us and other distributors, the need in the community, which increased more than 60 percent since 1989, wasn’t being met, forcing Foodlink to explore all avenues to meet the growing demand.
Understanding that need existed beyond Rochester, we partnered with our food bank partners in Buffalo, Syracuse, and the southern tier to make our inaugural Check Out Hunger campaign a companywide initiative, which included 45 stores in all.
“We’re banking on convenience for the success of the checkout program,” Mary Ellen explained in her 1993 column. “In the past, we’ve tried collecting food in bins at our stores, and money in canisters with limited success. In contrast, we tried a scanning program in our nine Syracuse stores over the holidays and raised $77,000.”
Mary Ellen’s hopes became a reality. During the first campaign, our customers donated a total of $216,802, all of which was distributed to the participating food banks. Since 1993, we’ve continued to grow our Check Out Hunger campaign, rolling it out to each new store, and adding additional options for donating at checkout. Our customers’ generosity has never faltered, even in the toughest of times.
Our 2009 campaign came at a time when the need in our communities was high, yet our customers gave in record amounts. That year, we saw double digit increases in the dollars given by our customers and employees, totaling $2.1 million.
Mary Ellen shared the good news in one of her weekly columns. “I felt compelled to share these results, so others can appreciate the generous spirit of Americans during such troubled times. The food banks are ‘ecstatic,’ to quote the development director of Foodlink.”
That same generous spirit was seen again in 2020 and 2021 during a time when millions of Americans were out of work and food banks were seeing record-level need in every community. Our customers rose to the challenge, donating a total of $2.8 and $2.9 million, respectively.
“Throughout the last 30 years, in good times and in bad, our customers have been incredibly generous, donating without hesitation to their local scanning campaigns,” says Linda. “The money raised goes directly back into the community to help fight hunger in our neighborhoods. Thank you to our amazing customers, employees, and community partners for your willingness to lend a helping hand every day.”