It's the most wonderful time of the year...for sales and charity!
As communities look to their local grocer for ways to give back this season, consider these ideas and best practices gathered from IGA retailers across the country to make a big impact with a comparatively small amount of effort—and in most cases, a quick turnaround time.
Community Coat Rack
When Washington temperatures drop, Martin's Market IGA puts a coat rack outside under the store awning with empty hangers. Employees and customers fill the rack with gently used coats, which are free to anyone who needs one. The store leaves this rack outside all winter until the weather begins to warm up.
- Advertise the program in bag stuffers, on social media, and put a sign outside to make people aware of it.
- Check the rack daily to keep it looking presentable. Most of the time the coats are in good shape, but there are times you will need to remove a coat or two if they are too worn.
Martin's Market IGA coat rack is filled with donations throughout the winter.
Step Up Your Food Drives
Many IGA stores have taken the popular food drive and tweaked it to make it easier and more fun for shoppers to participate, which in turn has led to more food donated. In the examples below, stores sell pre-assembled bags of food for a set price, which allows shoppers to quickly grab a bag to ring up. It's a win-win for stores and shoppers: stores do the "shopping" by choosing the items and set a price for the full bag, while shoppers simply take the packed bag to the check-out counter where it's rung up and set aside for delivery to the local food bank or school.
Partner With A Local Food Bank
Isom IGA in Kentucky and the Carlie C’s chain of stores in North Carolina work with their distributor MDI, putting together bags of $5 and $10 worth of food items and making them available for customers to purchase and then donate. One store averages 400-500 bags sold per season, with Carlie C's cumulatively selling around 15,000 per season! The key to a successful holiday giving program is coordinating with a worthy partner, says Carlie C's Owner Mack McLamb. “It’s all about asking and giving them the opportunity,” he said.
The Backpack Program Benefits Kids
Thanks to the success of the food bag program, Isom IGA branched out and put a different spin on the program, tailoring the food items for a special program through the community’s elementary school, says Store Owner Gwen Christon. The Backpack Program ensures kids who are food insecure at home have enough to eat over the weekends and holidays, times when they don’t have access to the school cafeteria. The store The resource center in the school sends these kids home with ready-to-eat foods: Pop-Tarts and breakfast bars, peanut butter crackers, fruit cups, pudding. “It gives them something they don’t need parents to prepare. They can get a spoon and eat it themselves,” says Christon.
$10 Cookie Bags Support Neighbors in Need
Ohio's Oberlin IGA partners with Oberlin Community Services' (OCS) for an annual food drive that puts a tasty spin on the classic charitable giving event. The store sells $10 bags filled with baking ingredients (flour, sugar, vegetable oil, and chocolate chips) that go to neighbors in need via OCS so they can bake holiday cookies.
Oberlin IGA Owner Leo Braido provides financial assistance to cover the value of bag contents in excess of $10, so the reasonable price encourages customers to support neighbors in need. In 2020, Braido says they sold over 800 bags!
Overwhelmingly positive customer feedback and generosity from loyal patrons has kept the IGA food drive going and growing for the past five Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. “So many of our customers wanted to do a food drive for Christmas and wanted to help. The advent of COVID really created interest in neighbors helping out the community in need,” Braido says.
Food Bag Pro Tips:
- Place the bags near the checkout counters to make it easy to add to cart.
- Create an end cap display with the food items inside the bags so shoppers know what they're purchasing, and can purchase the goods for themselves, too.
- Encourage cashiers to ask shoppers if they would like to commit to buying a bag each time they shop. Even if they don't commit, it prompts them to think about more than one donation.
Oberlin IGA and OCS team members pack a van with $10 cookie bags.
Become a Toys For Tots Donation Center
Toys For Tots is a popular way to bring joy to local children through a well-established charity. It's easy for parents and caregivers to apply for toys, as well as local stores to apply to help.
Susanville IGA in California regularly participates in the area Toys for Tots fund drive, with donation jars at the register to collect cash, as well as bins for donated toys, books, and clothing. The organizers also put together food baskets, working with products from the store.
Store Owner Anna Stewart says the ability to give kids exactly what they want is very rewarding. “If the child wants a pink bicycle for Christmas, they’ll have it," she says, adding that the Toys for Tots coordinator makes sure the kids receive one present specifically from the child’s wish list, as well as books, puzzles, and a stocking with other small goodies. All
Retailers wishing to host a toy drive can find their local Toys For Tots campaign contact through this link and inquire about hosting a box at their store location. All of the money raised is spent locally, putting it back in the community.
Lassen County Toys for Tots works with Susanville IGA to raise awareness and gather donations for its campaign.
Round Up Your Change For Charity
In what has quickly become a popular retailer best practice, IGA stores owned by The Myers Group, a family-owned grocery business with seven IGA stores in the Pacific Northwest, regularly run a round-up-your-change campaign and donate the proceeds to a different charity each month. These stores, which include Foodland IGA and Super Bear IGA in Juneau, Alaska, and The Goose Grocer in Whidbey Island, Washington, have perfected the practice. In fact, The Goose Grocer reached $1 million donated this August, with the money going to over 30 local non-profits.
This tactic is especially important over the holidays, when customers are in a more giving mood. Cashiers ask customers if they would like to round up their change to benefit a local charity (if the bill is $53.28, the customer pays $54.00 and $0.72 goes to the charity). At the end of the month, all of the "spare change" is totaled and the store presents the non-profit with a check, ranging from $3,000 to $7,000+, depending on the store and the time of year.
"This is where we can make a big impact, and it won’t cost the store much money to do it," says Tyler Myers, owner of The Myers Group and IGA's International Retailer of the Year in 2016 and Hometown Proud Retailer of the Year in 2020. "The customers get the credit, but the store receives goodwill as a benefit."
- Check with your POS system provider to determine if your system is ready to implement this program with the round-up technology. If not, work with them to integrate it in the coming months so you can launch this program during the year or in time for next year's holiday season.
The Goose Grocer team member hands a check to a Whidbey Homeless Coalition representative.
Charitable giving isn't just for the holidays—these effective programs have worked well for the retailers who tried them and can be used year-round! Put your unique spin on them and share your success with us so we can feature your tips in a future story!