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Food banks bothered by perception in Fred Meyer fundraiser

SNOHOMISH — The messaging in a grocer’s campaign to fight hunger is frustrating the directors of several area food banks.
Fred Meyer’s campaign asks shoppers if they would like to “round up” their purchase total to the nearest dollar and donate the difference to “the food bank.”
At an Everett Fred Meyer, a photo shows someone used black marker to underline the phrase “local food bank” and wrote in the names of two specific Everett food banks on now-unused version of a sign posted at cash registers.
A cashier at the Snohomish store told a Tribune employee that her managers indicated to her that the donations go to the local food bank.
Except it’s not the case.
The donations go to the Fred Meyer Fund, which redistributes the money in the form of “hunger reduction grants” across Fred Meyer’s broad, four-state footprint.
One of the largest recipients is Food Lifeline, a Seattle nonprofit that distributes food to more than 300 partner agencies across Western Washington, including in this county.
This has led to another misperception: that all of the money raised through “Round Up” goes directly to Food Lifeline.
But wherever it goes, local food bank groups are bothered the “Round Up” effort is diluting the public donation pool, and none of it is being handed directly to local food banks.
“This is taking money out of our pocket,” Snohomish Community Food Bank director Elizabeth Grant said.
“Although Fred Meyer is meaning well and their program is very generous, it has become deceiving to the customers as to where their monetary donations are going. … The customers believe they are donating directly to us. And they are not,” Grant said.
She was the only food bank director the Tribune reached who was willing to go on record for this story; numerous others declined to be quoted.
Grant, who is also the president of the 20-member Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition, said coalition members have expressed their concerns to both Fred Meyer and Food Lifeline. But corrective action has been slow.
Jeffery Temple, director of corporate affairs for Fred Meyer Stores, Inc., said new signage was sent to stores in March.
“Hopefully that’s all been updated,” he said. “If there’s an instance where it hasn’t been changed, let us know.”
Temple said Fred Meyer does not specify any organizations as recipients of “Round Up” donations. Instead, the new signs indicate donations will benefit “local food banks and hunger solutions.”
Cashiers have been instructed to give customers similar information.
Food Lifeline officials have also expressed concerns to Fred Meyer about the “Round Up” signage. But the agency seems to have a misperception that adds to the confusion.
Food Lifeline sent suggested display signs to Fred Meyer that carry the nonprofit’s logo and proclaim, “Round Up for Food Lifeline,” according to Food Lifeline’s director of agency programs and network development, Josh Martinez.
While Food Lifeline is granted a significant amount of the “Round Up” donations, Temple emphasized that the money goes to the Fred Meyer Fund.
“We don’t look at (‘Round Up’) as a pass-through program,” Temple said. “We’ve opened it up for local food banks to apply for grants. We want to distribute the money as effectively as we can.”
Grant feels short-changed by the effort. Fundraisers by other nonprofit partners, such as Northwest Harvest, return most or all contributions to local food banks.
She said she would like to see at least a percentage of the money raised in Snohomish County be earmarked for the county’s food bank coalition.
The “Round Up” promotion takes “money that could have gone to the coalition, that could have gone to buy food for 20 food banks,” Grant said. “It’s really, really frustrating.”
Much of the frustration stems from a feeling that Food Lifeline is overstepping its boundaries and squashing the little guy, Grant said.
Some grocery stores that used to donate to small food banks now give all their spare food to Food Lifeline under an exclusive contract, she claimed.
“(Food Lifeline) has wedged themselves in between grocery stores and food banks. It’s almost become political,” Grant said.
Food Lifeline sorts donated food at its Seattle headquarters, then distributes it to 300 or so food banks, meal programs, and shelters across Western Washington that it works with.
Grant said 12 of the 20 food banks in the coalition buy food from Food Lifeline and another six arrange with Vounteers of America to source food, and that may include Food Lifeline purchases.
Northwest Harvest is an alternative supplier.
So, what’s the upshot?
If you want to ensure your donation goes to a particular food bank, give the money directly to that organization.
If you want to earmark your money for food banks in Snohomish County, donate it to the Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition.



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