GALVESTON, Texas — Kroger Co. was the first major supermarket chain to reopen here following the devastation of this coastal town by Hurricane Ike last month.
The company's response in getting the store open within four days of the storm, and its other efforts in the Houston area where the storm caused considerable damage and power outages, is illustrative of Kroger's commitment to its communities, according to David Dillon, chairman and chief executive officer of the Cincinnati-based retailer.
“We were able to get that store in Galveston open when the people there needed us, and we had a big hot dog feed there that night,” he said. “It was a way to let the people there know that getting open and being supportive of the community was important to our team.”
Gary Huddleston, a spokesman for Kroger in the region, said the cookout, staged in the store's parking lot on a large barbecue grill, attracted residents, rescue workers and members of clean-up crews.
“We received a lot of favorable comments,” he said.
The store was able to receive 15 truckloads of product before opening, and was primarily offering ice, water and canned products, along with a limited variety of perishables.
Meanwhile in nearby Houston, Kroger received a request from Mayor Bill White to truck in some ice so the city could give it away to residents, more than a million of whom were without power for several days after the storm.
“We arranged to get ice from Atlanta and Denver — and possible other places — and were able to bring some ice into the city,” Dillon said. “Even as we were struggling to get our own stores up and running, we were able to provide some of our resources to help the citizens generally, and I think that was a good sign of our organization.”
The hurricane recovery efforts, which stretched north into the heart of Kroger's operations in the Midwest as heavy winds knocked out power through a broad swath of the country, was filled with small acts of service by Kroger individuals, Dillon explained.
For example, one independent truck driver who was bringing a load of ice to one of Kroger's Houston stores was forced to sleep in his cab overnight in the store's parking lot because nobody was available to help him unload. The next morning, after unloading, the store's manager walked up to the driver and made sure he got whatever he wanted for breakfast, even though he had never even met the driver before.
“That was one single act of kindness that illustrates how we care for each other, even in the midst of chaos,” he said.
The driver happened to tell the story to his father, a Kroger employee, who relayed the story to Dillon.
“It's pretty moving, and that's an example of the kind of organization we have,” Dillon said.