LAKELAND, Fla. — Publix Super Markets , with most of its stores in hurricane-prone Florida, is no stranger to natural disasters.
That experience came in handy following the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti, when Maria Brous, director of media and community relations, helped coordinate an impressive fund-raising effort that netted more than $4.4 million in donations from customers in just three weeks.
“Unfortunately, we have had a lot of experience activating our register program, and we have a relationship with the American Red Cross that allows us to be very turnkey,” she told SN.
She said the chain, with some 1,011 stores across the Southeast, was able to activate a donation campaign at all of its stores the day after the earthquake struck.
“Typically, we stay within the states where we operate, but in this case we knew it would be important to our workers and our customers because a lot of them have family members in Haiti, and extended family,” she said.
When disasters strike, Publix quickly assembles a response coordination team of about a half-dozen people, including regional leaders who are close to the areas affected, to determine a course of action.
“It was very apparent that Haiti was in a very bad situation, and they didn't have the infrastructure in place,” Brous explained. “We knew we would have a lot of workers that would be affected by the earthquake, and that we had a lot of customers that would be very engaged and would want to give back and want to help.”
Publix has a longstanding relationship with the American Red Cross, but Brous said that after the hurricanes of 2004, it became more formalized. All the information to create checkout signs is available in the company's computer system, so when disaster strikes, Publix simply updates the display type and stores print out the signs individually.
For the Haiti relief campaign, customers could donate in any denomination they wished, and cashiers were able to key in a look-up code and provide a receipt for tax purposes. The campaign ran from Jan. 13 to Feb. 7.
Although Publix was already in the midst of a fund-raiser for Special Olympics, one of the main charities it supports on a companywide basis, Brous said the impact on donations to that organization was minimal. The company ended up raising just over $1.47 million for Special Olympics this year, a little below the 2009 total of almost $1.49 million.
In addition to cash-resister donations for Haiti relief, Publix Super Markets Charities donated $100,000 to American Red Cross for relief efforts.
“We were overwhelmed by the contributions Publix was able to collect through the generosity of customers,” said Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross.