C&S Wholesale Grocers doesn't go out of its way to seek publicity for its myriad food donations, volunteer efforts, financial contributions and corporate sponsorships. It's possible that customers don't even know about the company's charitable work, but the company and its employees do it anyway, all in the name of giving back to the communities that have helped build the Keene, N.H.-based wholesaler into the national powerhouse it is today.
“Giving back is important to C&S because it's the right thing to do, and because we feel that with our success comes the responsibility to be a good community partner,” said Gina Goff, director of corporate giving for C&S. “We think that rolling up our sleeves and lending a helping hand, and sharing our resources with others who are less fortunate make our communities better places to live and work.”
SN is recognizing C&S for its comprehensive efforts with the 2007 SN Community Service Award, which was to be presented yesterday at the Friends of the Industry Dinner during Food Marketing Institute's Midwinter Executive Conference in Grand Lakes, Fla.
The privately held company, owned by the Cohen family, grew from a single warehouse in Massachusetts 85 years ago to a chain of more than 60 warehouses in 14 states, with more than 20,000 employees. Sales for 2006 were projected to exceed $20 billion.
Charitable giving for the company started in the early 1980s, “because the Cohen family wanted to share what they have with others,” Goff said. “The community involvement programs at C&S have just been a great investment that gives back to us tenfold in so many ways. In addition to doing business and being a leader in our industry, we're also looked at as a leader in our communities and a change agent for helping to address important social problems, most notably hunger.”
Each year, the company publishes a “Community Involvement Report,” which highlights the company's donation and community-service goals and other relevant information. This year's report is titled, “Hope: It's what we bring to the table.”
C&S strongly encourages employees to get involved in volunteer programs within their communities. “We've done some preliminary surveying, and it looks like at least 20% of our employees say they volunteer,” Goff said.
The company has three types of volunteer programs to support its workers' efforts: Dollars for Doers, Team Up & Make Strides and National Hunger Awareness Day.
“Dollars for Doers is an incentive for employees to volunteer,” Goff said. The program encourages employees to get involved in their community as volunteers, and for every hour, the company will donate $1 to the organization with which the employee is volunteering, up to $1,000 per year, per employee. “We realize that our employees have time, talent, skills and energy to give,” Goff said. She noted that employees do everything from coaching Little League to leading scout troops to serving as volunteer firefighters.
“This is one incentive that we are very proud of,” she said.
Team Up & Make Strides encourages employees to form teams of four to get involved in events for raising funds and awareness, usually taking the form of walk-a-thons, marathons, swim-a-thons and bike-a-thons, to name a few. The company will then make a donation to the charities.
On National Hunger Awareness Day, observed on the first Tuesday in June each year, C&S encourages associates to donate food to America's Second Harvest, and in turn the company gives $1 for every pound of food contributed. Last year, associates donated 12,000 pounds of food.
Goff said employees who volunteer feel a sense of pride “in being able to make a difference for other people with the interest and support of their company.
C&S has distinct areas to which it directs most of its corporate giving: hunger, children's programs, and health and human services. Organizations can ask the company for assistance by applying online through the company's website.
The company contributes to several hundred different charities on average each year, Goff said, noting that only includes corporate giving. Individual charities supported by employees, who can apply for financial contributions to their charities from the company, are not included in that number.
Goff cited C&S' alignment with Chicago-based America's Second Harvest: The Nation's Food Bank Network as the company's largest charitable effort. America's Second Harvest oversees more than 200 statewide or regional food banks, of which C&S supports about two dozen by making almost daily donations of product from its warehouses.
“C&S is among our Top 20 for donors,” said Eric Davis, manager of retail programs for America's Second Harvest. “About two dozen of our food banks are getting product from them on a daily basis, usually discontinued items, overstocks, slightly damaged but still usable goods, and products that are closely dated.”
The company also has a partnership with the United Way, and is “very committed,” Goff said, to overcoming children's cancer. For the past 21 years, C&S has sponsored a charity golf outing every year.
First Book, Washington, is a new charity for C&S “that we're very excited about,” Goff said. “They give brand-new books to underserved children from coast to coast. The operation is the nation's only book bank. Books are donated from major publishers and redistributed at a local level to children whose families may not be able to afford new books.”
Goff also cited combating hunger as an area for corporate giving. “We started last year making a few donations to inspire young people to get involved in the fight against hunger. We're interested in developing new ideas and strategies to solve this problem.”
In the future, the company would like to get involved in supporting environmental issues, Goff said. “We want to make a difference where we can,” she said.
In addition to national social issues, C&S is also focused on making a difference in the communities where the company has a presence, which it defines as within a 20-mile radius from one of its distribution centers.
“Particularly in our corporate headquarters communities of Brattleboro, Vt., and Keene, N.H., we love to fund events that are free and open to everyone,” Goff said. She cited an annual pumpkin festival in Keene that holds a record for having the most carved pumpkins on display at a time, and an annual parade in Brattleboro called Strolling of the Heifers, which attracts about 40,000-50,000 people and brings attention to the rural way of life in America.
C&S has two retail affiliates — GU Family Markets, which runs the Grand Union banner, and Southern Family Markets. Both of those chains have been involved with Food for All, a point-of-purchase donation program where customers can buy a coupon and the store collects the money for local food banks.
The company also works on disaster planning with America's Second Harvest, which has a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross.
“C&S is usually one of the first companies to respond to us in disasters,” Davis said.
“Since we have food, we take our cue from America's Second Harvest,” Goff said, noting the company donates food and supplies whenever possible. “When the tsunami [in the Indian Ocean, December 2004] hit, we wanted to give food, but the logistics of getting food from here to there didn't make that possible. Instead, we raised money from our employees and the company matched it, and we provided help financially.
“When Katrina hit, it was a different story. We worked with America's Second Harvest to get food and water there right away.”
Although C&S usually keeps quiet about its corporate giving efforts, they haven't gone unnoticed in the food industry. The company was honored in 2006 with the Grocery Distributor of the Year award from America's Second Harvest, and in 2005 C&S was given the Neighborhood Partnership Award from FMI.
In 2005, C&S was also given the designation as a national corporate leader by the United Way. “That's a large distinction,” Goff said, “because they are in very good company with some of the largest corporations in America.”
According to the America's Second Harvest website, C&S was “honored with the 2006 Grocery Distributor of the Year award for their donation of over 10 million pounds of product to more than two dozen America's Second Harvest Network members last year. In the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, C&S supplied more than 1 million pounds of water, food, ice and supplies to residents of the Gulf Coast.”
According to Davis, the winner of the America's Second Harvest award is typically nominated by food banks. “C&S overwhelmingly received a lot of nominations this year, and a lot of that had to do with the Katrina disaster,” he said. “Typically it's not only about donating food, because about 90% of retailers in the U.S. donate to some extent. But C&S goes above and beyond. The company gives all of its employees turkeys for Thanksgiving and encourages them to donate the turkeys to a food bank, they participate in National Hunger Awareness Day, and they run all kinds of programs. Those are the kinds of things that are above and beyond just normal donations.”
The Neighborhood Partnership Award from FMI recognizes companies that contribute significantly to the neighborhoods they serve in the areas of youth development, hunger relief, health and wellness, and urban economic development, according to its website.