Every day, feeding agencies spend every spare cent they have on feeding their neighbors who battle hunger. This means that they do not always have the resources necessary for structural improvements which would increase their capacity and functionality and, in turn, enable them to do what they do best: nourish their communities. Understanding this, Food Lion Feeds launched "The Great Pantry Makeover" (TGPM) campaign in 2015 in honor of Feeding America®'s Hunger Action Month™, bringing Food Lion associates to local feeding agencies in need to donate and install everything from shelving, refrigerators and freezers, fresh coats of paint, security upgrades, new flooring and other infrastructure improvements as well as other necessary upgrades the feeding agency simply does not have the resources to do.
In its inaugural year, Food Lion renovated more than 30 food pantries in 30 days across 10 states, and the effort has grown consistently year over year. This program also serves as the company's annual associate volunteer month and, this year, will remodel more than 60 pantries in honor of its 60th anniversary.
Now in its third year, The Great Pantry Makeover will double its efforts, expanding from 30 pantry makeovers to 60 leading up to Dec. 12, Food Lion's 60th anniversary, and will donate more than 2.5 million meals and 2,000 volunteer hours as part of its largest associate volunteer initiative in the process. You can view the full list of food pantries in the attachment below.
Each week, we'll recap the impact we're making on our community partners here on our Lion's Tale blog through The Great Pantry Makeover blog series. Be sure to keep up with the Food Lion Feeds team each week as we remodel and stock the shelves at food pantries across our operating area through Dec. 12, Food Lion's 60th anniversary. And, to keep up with TGPM events in real time, follow the excitement with real-time updates on Twitter @FoodLionNews!
Sept. 7 – Henderson, N.C.
"He wasn't the only child fighting hunger."
When Melissa Elliott founded Gang Free, Inc., the focus was on ending gang violence in a rough part of Henderson, N.C., not actually on feeding the hungry. But, everything changed when a seven-year-old student enrolled in her after-school program was given a piece of pizza, cut the slice in half, took half home and then returned the next morning with the second half.
"I knew at that point that he may not be the only child fighting hunger," said Elliott.
So, Elliott, using the resourcefulness which sustained her during her 14-year career in law enforcement, most recently as the Gang Resource Officer for the Vance County Sheriff Office, contacted the Food Bank for Central & Eastern North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C., and a partnership was born.
Since becoming a partner agency of the food bank in 2016, Gang Free has distributed more than 28,000 meals, including 9,000 meals in 2017 alone.
When Elliott learned of the food insecurity problems in Henderson, she gained a better understanding of the impact hunger has on the at-risk youth and families she was trying to reach.
Gang Free now offers healthy snacks for students enrolled in the after-school program, much of which is grown from the center's community garden just a few feet away from the classrooms so students can focus on their academics and other skills learned through Elliott's program, and not on where their next meal will come from.
But, the facility knew it needed some renovations in order to meet the needs of the community, and Food Lion knew it could help through Food Lion Feeds.
So, this week, as Food Lion Feeds launched its third annual "The Great Pantry Makeover" campaign and associates from Henderson, N.C., and surrounding towns and cities came together to remodel Gang Free.
Honoring Food Lion's 60th anniversary this year, local teams of Food Lion associates will be performing 60 makeovers beginning this week at the start of September's Hunger Action Month, and running through Food Lion's 60th anniversary on Dec. 12, 2017.
At Gang Free, the team of 15 local Food Lion store managers performed a variety of work, from repainting and replacing the flooring in several rooms, donating a new commercial refrigerator and freezer, performing landscaping work around the complex, power-washing the exterior of several buildings, tending to the garden as well as a number of other much-needed tasks around the three-building complex.
To top it all off, they also stocked the food pantry full of hearty and nutritious food to help end hunger in the Henderson community.
"If you think about the youth in Henderson, I cannot think of a better way or more of a priority than to make sure our youth are given every chance that they can get to succeed and have a place to come that's safe and be able to get nourished, and that folds right into what we do at Food Lion with our organization and with Food Lion Feeds," said Mike Hall, Food Lion's director of operations over the Henderson area.
The connection between Food Lion and Gang Free runs deep, and was developed through conversations between Waverly Taylor, the store manager at Food Lion's 1419 E. Andrews Ave. in Henderson, and Elliot when she shopped in the store. Taylor strengthened that connection by visiting Gang Free several times and speaking to Gang Free students, and also delivered several previous food donations through Food Lion Feeds.
"I just love doing good for people, and it makes me feel good that our company cares about the communities we serve, and we're willing to give back," Taylor said.
Through the efforts of Taylor, Hall and their Food Lion colleagues, Gang Free will no longer need to worry about having enough refrigeration or safe facilities to cook and serve food, and can solely dedicate themselves to doing what they do best: serving at-risk youth in Henderson.
Sept. 8 – Madison Heights, Va.
"Increased capacity was a critical component."
On early Thursday morning, 16 Food Lion volunteers enthusiastically entered Solid Rock Food Bank in Madison Heights, Va., ready to get to work and transform the pantry. The morning kicked off with volunteers unloading a mix of fresh and non-perishable food from the Food Lion delivery truck and stocking shelves that had recently been installed as part of The Great Pantry Makeover in its inaugural year.
Throughout the morning volunteers helped with painting the shelves, assembling additional shelving, bagging food in preparation for Solid Rock's "food bank day" and reorganizing their space in order to increase storage capacity. They even helped load the car for a few clients who wandered in hungry, in need of food.
"Before the Food Lion volunteers came in, I was working out of boxes and putting food on tables," said Tina Wilson, manager of Solid Rock. "Now that shelving has been installed and the volunteers stocked the shelves, I can prepare food so much more easily. This was such a huge help."
Solid Rock serves an average of 2,500 to 3,000 a month and is run mainly by Wilson and one other volunteer. Clients come from all around and no one is ever turned away, which is why increasing the pantry's storage capacity was a critical component of this remodel.
Not only did the makeover have an impact on Wilson and the clients they serve at Solid Rock, it also had an impact on the volunteers.
"This was really eye opening today, to see how Food Lion helps this food pantry, which in turn, impacts our community," said Nina, Food Lion Store 199 Store Manager. "You don't realize how much hunger there really is out there."
Larry Cassels, Director of Operations, was also on-site pitching in and reminding the team that "while this is a special event today, we are making a difference every day in the lives of our customers and communities."
Cassels also noted that some of the associates from the local store were particularly excited to see this makeover take place at Solid Rock Food Bank as they go to Solid Rock Baptist Church and understood how much the pantry needed support. The volunteer event hit home with these associates who saw firsthand how the company they work for is truly supporting them locally.
Sept. 9 – Durham, N.C.
"Showing care for our community's future."
The care Annie McKoy has for the students at Reaching All Minds Academy (RAMA) in Durham, N.C., is evident.
The Bull City charter school includes more than 225 primarily at-risk students with a focus on science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) education, and you can tell McKoy, who serves as the school's director of after school services, cares for each one of the students as if they were her own.
And, McKoy also knows when a student is hungry, they can't focus on learning.
So when Annie learned about Food Lion Feed's The Great Pantry Makeover initiative, she thought her school's food pantry and kitchen made for a great "makeover" candidate.
She was right.
This week, more than 15 Durham, N.C., area Food Lion associates remodeled RAMA's kitchen and food pantry literally from the floor on up.
They replaced the unsafe floor, donated a new commercial refrigerator, freezer and icemaker, cleaned, organized and painted, and of course, delivered a pantry full of food items to help feed the students, many of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch.
"These renovations will allow us to serve our kids better and serve more children, and allow us to prepare our food in the most efficient and sanitary way," McKoy said. "The kids are very excited and I'm excited too. This is a like a dream come true."
Now, the school can focus more of their resources on educating and feeding their students, and can worry less about having to replace aging appliances and unsafe floors.
The makeover at RAMA was dramatic, and the impact will be felt by all for a long time to come.
Giving back to the towns and cities we serve is part of who Food Lion is, and we couldn’t be more proud to join with Annie McKoy and RAMA to give back to the Durham community we all call home.
In addition to pantry makeover events, Food Lion Feeds also made a 10,000-meal donation to Mr. Fred's Food Pantry at The Lake in Durham, N.C.