WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Food Marketing Institute here has issued a call to its members to lend a hand to thousands of people in Honduras and Nicaragua who were made hungry or homeless by Hurricane Mitch last month.
At the same time, both large chains and independents continue to carry out their annual holiday food drives to benefit community food banks and soup kitchens. Parallel efforts for the hurricane survivors of both Mitch and Hurricane Georges, which struck the Caribbean earlier, are keeping supermarkets busy.
"We have a large Hispanic employee population, so we felt it was important to show them we care about them and their families," said Kim Keyes, spokeswoman for C&S Wholesale Grocers, Brattleboro, Vt. "There is a huge support effort. The hard part is, it competes with the peak season of need locally." C&S donates about 400,000 cases of food each year to New England charities.
Hurricane Mitch dumped up to 2 feet of rain a day over a four-day period on the mountains of Central America. The ensuing floods and landslides killed more than 10,000, boosting this year's hurricane death toll to at least 12,000.
The Central American relief effort is industrywide, organized by Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., and U.S. Friends of the World Food Programme, headquartered here. The appeal, which is supported by the Food Marketing Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, American Meat Institute, International Dairy Foods Association and the Meat Export Foundation, has already resulted in promises of tons of food and other needed products, according to the FDI. The American Trucking Association has also asked its members for help.
"We feel here at FDI that we have a responsibility to help them through this tragic loss. It's pretty close to home, in our hemisphere," said John R. Block, president.
FMI waited until Dec. 11 to issue its appeal, to be sure the logistics were in place so that food and other products could be efficiently distributed in Central America, said Charlotte Reid, manager of community relations and urban affairs for FMI.
The World Food Programme, affiliated with the United Nations, is feeding 800,000 people a day in Honduras and Nicaragua, said Block.
Most needed are water purification tablets and nonperishable foods such as powdered milk, wheat, flour, maize, vegetable oil, processed meat, cleaning supplies, personal care items, vitamins, eating and cooking utensils, screws and nails, hammers and saws, Block said.
Priorities are food that does not require refrigeration, that can be eaten from the can, and that can provide energy and nutrition, like energy bars and cereal bars, said Rick Leach, executive director of U.S. Friends of the World Food Programme. He is lining up the trucks and ships to transport the goods.
FMI's Reid said five initial calls she placed to retailers revealed that H.E. Butt stores in Texas have organized a food pantry; Publix in Miami has organized canned food drives; and Kroger gave money to a church that was organizing a relief effort and donated 1,000 gallons of water. A few other FMI members have asked not be recognized publicly.
On Long Island, N.Y., King Kullen's CEO Tom Cullen announced that the chain was joining with the local utility to collect and send food and clothing to Central America and the Caribbean. King Kullen will match a portion of the donations.
Many food retailers are in the habit of giving generously. Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa., supports over 4,000 nonprofits through its Community Cash Back program and has given more than $15 million since 1976, close to $2 million of it last year, said Alan Tempest, spokesman for Genuardi's. Still, "If FMI is supporting the Central American effort, I am sure we will contribute," said Tempest.
Bob Gatty, vice president for communications of FDI, said many food companies responded positively to its appeal.
In addition, the natural products community in Boulder, Colo., has joined with Frontier Natural Products in giving cash donations to aid Nicaragua and Honduras. The fund has reached about $12,000, said Susan Holden, a spokeswoman for Frontier, which gave $5,000 initially.
Block said every donation should be accompanied by a cash contribution to help with shipping. FDI donated $10,000 to WFP to help with transportation.