Grocery story chain immerses itself in the community
By Carrie Napoleon For Sun-Times Media
Helping hand: Representatives from Smithfield, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Strack and Van Til, the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana and local community members unload hams from a tractor-trailor during a media event promoting hunger awareness at the Strack and Van Til warehouse in Highland. | Supplied photo
Giving back to the community is just part of doing business for one local grocery store chain.
Strack & Van Til Food Market and Ultra Foods, headquartered in Highland, is behind the scenes raising funds for organizations such as Tradewinds, the Boys and Girls Club of Northwest Indiana, Habitat for Humanity and the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana to name a few, as well as lending a helping hand to small fundraisers, youth sports organizations, schools and clubs.
“We want to be good citizens. We want to be good neighbors. We want to be involved in all the communities we serve,” said Dave Wilkinson, president and CEO.
There are 29 Strack and Van Til and Ultra stores in communities throughout Northwest Indiana and Illinois. Wilkinson said the company currently has the largest market share in Northwest Indiana.
Giving back to customers
While Strack does not have a specific policy on corporate giving, it encourages its staff to look for ways to become involved in the communities where they work. The company also encourages its officers and supervisors to become involved in a cause in which they care about.
Wilkinson said people often do not realize the role local businesses play in assisting small groups with their financial needs. Groups like Little Leagues, school clubs and even service organizations rely on the sponsorships and donations from the business community.
“We feel it’s important to give back to the people who shop with us,” he said.
Ideas for organizations and causes that need help come to the grocer in a variety of ways. In some cases not-for-profits contact the grocer directly, in other cases, the ideas come from store associates.
“If there’s a cause they feel is important they can bring it to our attention and we’ll investigate,” Wilkinson said.
Along with finding ways to give back as a company, Wilkinson said Strack & Van Til also looks for ways to provide opportunities for community members to support local causes. The grocery store is a hub of activity in a community and a convenient spot for fundraising efforts. Strack & Van Til has collected donations for groups such as the American Heart Association, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the Food Bank to name a few.
“Sometimes people want to get involved but don’t know how,” he said.
By giving shoppers the chance to donate $1 or more added on to their total grocery bill, it makes helping out easy and can really add up to benefit the cause at hand.
Recently the grocer wrapped its most successful donation campaign to date. The fundraising benefitted the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. In January Strack & Van Til presented a check to the agency for $69,000 raised from donations made by customers at the check out lanes.
“That was probably a record,” Wilkinson said.
During the holiday fundraising campaign for the food bank, the grocer also managed to collect another $5,000 in donated non-perishable food items. In a separate effort, the grocer was behind a donation of Smithfield hams to the food bank.
Wilkinson said that unlike some businesses that have been hard hit by the flagging economy, grocery stores do not suffer as much during a downturn because people still must purchase food.
That has given the grocery store chain the opportunity to maintain its giving levels, and in some cases increase donations, during a time when not-for-profit agencies are battling increased need for services and budget reductions.
“It’s getting very tough for charities and non-profits to survive as well as generate the income they need,” Wilkinson said.
Being able to be a resource for those organizations is an integral part to being a good corporate citizen.
“I think we all have to do it, whether an individual or a corporation,” Wilkinson said. “We all have a social responsibility to help each other. I think it’s important to give back what we can if we can.”