Jennifer Hardin shares how BJ’s Wholesale Club has expanded their partnership with Feeding America as a core component of their CSR strategy

To date, we've partnered with Feeding America's local member food banks and their agency partners to donate and redistribute over 100-million pounds of unsold fresh food. Jennifer Hardin
During the past nine years, BJ's Wholesale Club has partnered with Feeding America as an integral part of their CSR strategy throughout their footprint in the Eastern United States.

This partnership was a natural fit for the retailer, which strives to bring a fresh approach to nourishing their communities and helping families thrive, according to Communications Manager Jennie Hardin. BJ's brings this mission to life by providing access to basic essentials such as fresh, nutritious food, education, and wellness.

The partnership officially started as a food rescue program, called “Feeding Communities,” at each of their club locations.

“To date, we've partnered with Feeding America's local member food banks and their agency partners to donate and redistribute over 100-million pounds of unsold fresh food,” said Jennie. “That equals about 84-million meals. And those numbers continue to climb each day.”

As BJ's continues to grow as a company, Jennie said, the Feeding Communities program grows as well.

“We launched Feeding Communities chain-wide when we created the program,” she said. “As we continue to open new locations, we expand the program with it. All of our new clubs establish a partnership with their local Feeding America member food bank prior to opening so that even before the doors open for business, we have a trusted partner ready to pick up any product that can be donated.”

Now, they're announcing the next phase of the program, which expands on an annual $1-million donation that the BJ's Charitable Foundation has granted to Feeding America over the past three years.

We'll allocate a portion of our donation to research at the national level to help evaluate programs, explore the barriers that exist, and ideate on new solutions to food access. Jennifer Hardin
“The first year that we donated $1 million to Feeding America, we helped provide local food banks with the resources needed to handle additional perishable food and with the infrastructure to support growth,” said Jennie. “We donated nine grants to partner food banks in our footprint that helped them build capacity. So, the ability to purchase more refrigeration trucks or resources they would need to safely transport and expand access to fresh, nutritious food, which is often a challenge for the food banks.”

Then, in 2018, they donated $1 million to support hunger-free summer programs at over a dozen food banks in their communities.

These programs provide access to nutritious food to kids who typically rely on free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, which they don't have access to during the summer when school is out of session.

“In 2019, we expanded the focus of our $1-million donation to Feeding America to improve access to quality food and to invest in long-term solutions for hunger relief,” said Jennie. “The grant supports innovative new models that will help us reach food insecure families and complements our Feeding Communities program.”

The expansion is also focusing on two other brand pillars: encouraging innovation and investing in education and research.

We identify opportunities based on what we know about our markets and the data that Feeding America provides us on food insecurity in communities across our footprint. Jennifer Hardin
“We are issuing ten grants to local food banks to help expand school-based and mobile pantries,” said Jennie. “Then, we'll award another five grants that will support food banks who are piloting new, innovative solutions to address hunger. Lastly, we'll allocate a portion of our donation to research at the national level to help evaluate programs, explore the barriers that exist, and ideate on new solutions to food access.”

According to Jennie, this new focus is helping them move towards a more all-encompassing Feeding Communities program that helps meet the current need, but ultimately, decrease that need in the longterm.

Jennie said they partner closely with the team at Feeding America on the national level to grow their initiatives and find ways to engage their team members and members.

“We identify opportunities based on what we know about our markets and the data that Feeding America provides us on food insecurity in communities across our footprint,” she said. “In the past, we took a look at the programs that Feeding America had in place and determined what would resonate with our members and create a positive impact in the communities in which we operate.”

As they continue to evolve the program, she said their primary goal is making it a longer-term initiative beyond their annual donation.

Our goal with this overarching Feeding Communities and community affairs program is to tell our story in an even bigger way. Jennifer Hardin
“We're fortunate that the food rescue program is strong for us. We see a great partnership on the club and local food bank level,” said Jennie. “We didn't want to interrupt or disrupt that, but we wanted to ask ourselves how our CSR and community strategy can grow and evolve with our business and with the needs of our communities.”

This past year, they've started looking for more ways to tell their story.

Historically, she said, they haven't done much communication around the program because it's such a well-oiled machine.

“We've focused on media outreach and a lot of our communities engage with members in a grassroots way to communicate our CSR initiatives there,” she said. “Our goal with this overarching Feeding Communities and community affairs program is to tell our story in an even bigger way. We're looking at not only media outreach, but also at how we develop collateral and assets that we can leverage in some of our other marketing vehicles.”

Moving forward, Jennie said they're always evaluating ways they can strengthen their partnership with Feeding America.

If you know what your goal is with that CSR initiative and how it aligns to your business, that's a strong foundation to set yourself up for success. Jennifer Hardin
They're entering into a new market — Pensacola, FL – at the beginning of March.

“With that, we're expanding our reach geographically with both our clubs and our Feeding Communities program,” she said. “We are also opening another new club in Michigan in the coming months. So, we're expanding in terms of partners and we're always evaluating ways in which we can support Feeding America, whether that's with in-kind or financial resources.”

She said one of the most important factors to this program's success is its scalability.

She said they're fortunate that Feeding America provides them the opportunity to scale the program as they scale their business. “That's been one of the keys to success on a club level and a corporate level,” she said. “For us, this program is a perfect marriage between a scalable program with a strong partner and identifying an opportunity for CSR work that is in line with our business and the core of our company.”

She said success also starts with knowing your business and what's important to not only your consumers but also your leadership.

“Once you can identify that, it makes it a much smoother process,” Jennie said. “If you know what your goal is with that CSR initiative and how it aligns to your business, that's a strong foundation to set yourself up for success.”

Jennifer Hardin has been a member of the CSR Board since 2019. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.