In the early days of the pandemic in 2020, thousands of Orange County residents lost their jobs as restaurants, gyms, and theme parks closed their doors. Others saw their hours drastically reduced. The economic hardship made it challenging for many Orange County families to put food on the table. Food pantries were inundated. Who can forget the images of lines of cars snaking through parking lots, the people inside waiting their turn to collect a box of stables to keep their families going for another week?
Like most of the public, the associates at Golden State Foods (GSF) were dismayed at the ever-increasing numbers of people in the community facing food insecurity.
Working for GSF, the associates knew they were uniquely positioned to deliver the help that food banks desperately needed. After all, they’d been helping feed the hungry through the associate-led, associate-funded Golden State Foods Foundation for nearly 20 years.
Legacy of Causes
GSF, headquartered in Irvine, is one of the largest diversified suppliers to the foodservice industry, serving more than 125,000 restaurants in 40 countries. The company estimates that they feed 5 billion people a day. Fighting hunger is a natural outgrowth of their position as an industry leader.
Even before the pandemic, GSF was at the forefront of helping alleviate food insecurity.
In 2016, GSF Foundation launched Feeding Hunger: A “No Lunch” Lunch, an annual one-hour soup kitchen-style lunch that raises awareness and funds for the cause of childhood hunger.
Several GSF executives have served on advisory boards that address hunger issues, including Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County and Serving People in Need (SPIN), lending their expertise on important logistics like setting up distribution channels and optimizing the way to distribute food and supplies to all the smaller food banks across Orange County.
Mark Wetterau, chairman and chief executive, GSF, served on the Second Harvest board, where he chaired the capital campaign to raise more than $8 million in the mid-2000s to remodel the food bank’s donated facility in Irvine. He later served as the organization’s chairman of the board.
In May, the GSF Foundation launched its “Focus on Food” initiative to support community food banks in their efforts to alleviate hunger. Through this initiative, Foundation committees can make grants to qualified food banks, which then receive matching funds of up to $5,000.
In the early days of the pandemic, the GSF Foundation quickly took action to help children and families in need by fast-tracking nearly $200,000 in grants to food banks. One of these, Second Harvest received $70,000, which they used in combination with other donations to set up a food distribution center at the Honda Center.
“The associates’ hearts were really in it,” said Tess McAnena, executive director, Golden State Foods Foundation. “They really wanted to help. And as the main contributors to the GSF Foundation fund—more than 80% of our associates participate—they were able to pivot the Foundation’s resources to help alleviate the strain food banks were under.”
Other initiatives followed, including food drives and need-specific fundraisers. Giving Children Hope, an organization that fills backpacks with food and distributes them to needy families at schools throughout Orange and Los Angeles Counties, needed a new delivery truck to replace the one its members were using. It was on its last legs and ready to break down at any moment. In total, the GSF Foundation provided Giving Children Hope with more than $32,000 to replace the truck.
“At the heart of Golden State Foods, we have our associate-led, associate-funded GSF Foundation that has taken action to help children and families in need,” said Dr. Wayne Morgan, corporate vice president and president, protein products and sustainability.
Making the Time
In addition to donating and directing the funds that fill the GSF Foundation’s coffers, GSF associates place a great deal of value on giving time, as well as treasure.
For the associates from the Irvine office, this meant turning one service project into two. The team had built 30 bikes for kids of limited means. On a Saturday morning in July, they met the children and their families at the Boys and Girls Club in Santa Ana. After giving out the bikes, along with helmets and bike locks, the GSF associates noticed that the club was setting up for its weekly food distribution. Cars filled with hungry families were already lined up along the street.
The team decided to stay for the afternoon to help. For several hours, associates loaded cars up with boxes of food, filled with perishable and non-perishable foods including dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, canned goods, dried goods and more. By the end of the day, the team had filled cars with more than 8,500 pounds of food.
“It’s so nice to see people give their time,” McAnena said. “Making a financial donation is great—and necessary. But it’s easy to write a check. When people give their hard-earned time to do things like this, it really shows how special they are.”
While the GSF Foundation was fast-tracking grants and associates were rolling up their sleeves to load up cars with food, GSF subsidiary KanPak U.S. was taking on the challenge in its own way.
“I saw on TV that (farmers) were throwing milk away, and I thought that was crazy,” said Larry McGill, corporate vice president of GSF and chief executive of KanPak U.S. “I knew that there had to be something that we could do to help.”
Because of supply disruption caused by the pandemic, dairy farmers were forced to throw out milk. Refusing to stand by while surplus milk went to waste while people were going hungry, KanPak collaborated with the GSF Foundation, GSF, and its Centralized Freight Management subsidiary to innovatively bring shelf-stable milk to market in record time—just about a month. Two-thirds of the first production run was shipped to Second Harvest Food Bank’s facility in Irvine.
Food banks have limited freezer capacity for perishable donations, so the surplus bottle initiative was a game-changer. Since it is shelf-stable, the bottles don’t need to be stored in a refrigerator.
And since it has a nine-month shelf life, food banks can count on it as a long-lasting resource. Best in Biz Awards presented GSF with Gold Award for Most Innovative Company of the Year 2020 for the company’s efforts to bring shelf-stable milk to market in record time.
GSF Foundation responded quickly when Orange County food banks were struggling under the weight of so much demand. Associates gave money out of their pockets and time out of their day. Much good has been done. But as COVID-19 variants wax and wane, how to solve the problem of food insecurity remains uncertain. One thing is sure: GSF and the GSF Foundation will be there, in whatever way is needed.
“The Foundation can do all this good because of the associates,” McAnena said. “They are truly committed to improving local communities.”