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Publix Holds Hunger Summit, Brings Stakeholders To Table

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Last updated on August 28th, 2023 at 08:41 am

The issue of hunger is very real in the United States. According to Feeding America, 34 million people in the U.S. are food insecure. In an effort to bring awareness to the issue, Publix hosted its inaugural Hunger Summit Feb. 23 at its Lakeland, Florida, headquarters.

Executives from 35 Feeding America member food banks in the company’s operating area attended, along with state and federal officials. Publix leaders shared best practices in talent acquisition, sourcing, warehousing and distribution.

Kevin Murphy

Kevin Murphy, president of Publix Super Markets, told The Shelby Report of the Southeast that the idea for the summit originated during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the company saw an “ever increasing request” from its partners about what more could be done to help.

“They were seeing record-setting numbers of people coming to their organizations in need of food. We thought it would be very powerful to bring all of the leaders together in one place and just throw ideas out and try to come up with solutions,” Murphy said.

Through the hunger summit, Publix provided the place and the opportunity for these food bank leaders to come together “to share ideas and to share experiences in an effort to help one another. That’s really what it’s all about today,” he said.

Related: Publix Hunger Summit photo gallery, Feb. 23

During the pandemic, many businesses shut down temporarily or closed for good. People lost their jobs. Today, with inflation and natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding and tornadoes affecting the nation, Murphy said many people are faced with choices of how they are going to spend the little money that they have – rent, utility bills or putting gas in their car.

“We are seeing more people, for the first time ever in their life, have to reach out and ask for help. I think that’s what really motivates us to want to be able to do more and be able to contribute more…we see it everywhere,” he said.

Publix wrapped up its annual Feeding More Together food campaign on March 5. Murphy said in the past 12 years, the company has raised $177 million through the register campaign, which is donated to Feeding America affiliates.

He added that, in addition to the funds raised through the campaign, Publix will donate $5 million in produce for the first six months of the year.

The produce donated is surplus, allowing farmers to earn money on what otherwise may just “sit in the ground and go to waste. It’s positive all the way around,” Murphy said.

Finding solutions to hunger is ultimate goal

Feeding South Florida is one of the more than 200 food banks in the Feeding America network and one of 10 food banks in Florida. It covers the four southern-most counties in the state – Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe (the Keys) and serves more than 25 percent of the state’s food insecure population.

Paco Velez

Paco Veléz, president and CEO of Feeding South Florida, attended the hunger summit, which he deemed a “huge step for Publix…and a great win for our community. We’re excited and thrilled. Publix has always been our biggest donor of food and funds, and this just compounds that.”

During the summit, representatives from Publix Super Markets Charities announced a $4 million grant opportunity available to select food banks in Publix’s operating area to fund non-recurring, capacity-building projects. The opportunity is in addition to PSMC’s annual hunger alleviation donations announced in September during Hunger Action Month. It will bring the organization’s total contributions to help alleviate hunger to more than $46 million since 2015.

Veléz said the grant is a “huge, huge win for food banks but more importantly for families. It’s going to allow food banks to really think bigger.”

He said emphasis needs to be on finding solutions to the issue of food insecurity. “What are the steps we need to take? What are the systems we need to change in order to do this? I think forcing folks to think will only benefit the families that we serve.”

Veléz agreed with Murphy that, through a variety of circumstances, more families are now having to reach out for help with food.

“The pandemic was really the beginning of a new issue for families…now we’re in full-blown inflation and families are struggling to make ends meet,” he said, adding that they are seeing families coming in every week now.

“It went from being emergency food assistance to an ongoing sustainability. Especially in South Florida, the further south you go the more expensive things become.”

In addition to providing food to families, Veléz noted that Feeding South Florida is trying to help them become more marketable in the workforce and get higher paying jobs. The organization has a warehouse training program, and Veléz said Publix has agreed to interview every one of the program graduates.

“Publix is a great employer and has great benefits and salaries…once the (graduates) get their foot in the door, it’s a great opportunity to move their families toward self-sufficiency.”

Veléz said it is important to keep the issue of hunger in front of people. “Hunger is not a sexy topic. It’s people needing food.”

Keeping that awareness top of mind can make a huge difference.

“It just adds more folks to the table. And for food banks and folks that are serving people, there’s room at the table for everyone to get involved,” he said. “No matter where you’re from, what you do, there’s room at the table if you want to help.”

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About the author

Sommer Stockton

Web Editor

Sommer joined The Shelby Report in January 2022 after graduating from Brenau University in Gainesville, GA with a B.A. and M.A. in Communications and Media Studies. Sommer is excited to learn about the grocery industry and share her findings with The Shelby Report's readers!

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