Wheat foods chain cooperating to provide baked foods to pantries

by Josh Sosland
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KANSAS CITY — In a new program participants have described both as "a natural" and "long overdue," leading companies up and down the wheat food chain are coming together to provide free baked foods to food pantries in Kansas City.

With donations of wheat from grain companies, wheat milling by Horizon Milling, L.L.C. and baking and delivery by Hostess Brands, Inc., the Field to Family program hopes to deliver 25,000 units of bread and snack cakes to pantries during the months of November to January.

The idea of Michael L. Dean, a merchandising manager for Horizon Milling in Overland Park, Kas., and Robert M. Kissick, senior vice-president of purchasing, Hostess Brands, Field to Family has moved from plan to reality in roughly four weeks.

"It was the middle of October, and Rob and I were just brainstorming," Mr. Dean said. "We wondered what could be done to address hunger problems. Could we touch the entire chain, from the grower-owned co-op all the way to the baker? "

"I sent approximately 20 letters to oursuppliers, and received wheat or cash donations from 13," Mr. Dean said. "It’s been overwhelming."

Mr. Dean said Paul DeBruce, president of DeBruce Grain Co., Kansas City, called immediately after receiving the letter and pledged support.

"Scoular called immediately as well," Mr. Dean said. "They said they had been looking for something along these lines. Everyone is aware of the need."

Mr. Kissick added, "The basic response was, ‘Why hasn’t this been done before?’"

The wheat and cash donations will help defray the cost of the program. Both Horizon and Hostess are making contributions to Field to Family.

As of Dec. 2, more than 10,000 units (either a loaf of bread, a package of buns or a box of snack cakes) had been delivered to one of seven food distribution agencies in the Kansas City area — Village Presbyterian Church Food Pantry, Don Bosco Community Center, Hope Faith Ministries, Episcopal Community Services, Della Lamb Community Services, City Union Mission and Operation Breakthrough Inc.

"They are in areas of need in the city," Mr. Kissick said. "Both of our companies already had been working with various food pantries in the past. With the list of pantries in hand, I spoke with our sales team to help arrange for orders to come in from the food banks or churches and for the product to be delivered."

The program has struck a chord with the recipients. Particularly appreciative was Sister Berta Sailer, co-director of Operation Breakthrough, which offers educational services to children living in poverty.

"Your assistance has helped lighten a burden our parents nearly always carry with them," she wrote in a thank you note. "‘What will we eat until pay day?’ ‘What will I feed them when the food stamps run out?’ The children’s parents join us in sending you warmest thanks for your help. The partnership you have created between growers, suppliers, millers and bakers is exemplary."

Food pantries have faced acute shortages in recent months because donations from food companies have been diminished because of greater efficiencies (reducing waste) and because of budgetary constraints. Meanwhile, demand from pantries has increased because of the economic slowdown.

While thrilled by the success of the program, Mr. Kissick expressed the hope that Field to Family will continue and expand even after its mid-January target is reached.

"I think this can be a springboard for something larger and better," he said. "We’re talking about hunger, serious demands that need to be met.

"This is the first time the entire supply chain is cooperating, and we believe these efforts should grow. Demand is not being met and a cooperative effort is needed. I’m not sure we’ll ever meet 100% of the need, but this is a good start."

Both Mr. Dean and Mr. Kissick were effusive in their appreciation to the suppliers who have participated.

"We are in a very competitive industry," Mr. Dean said. "But in the end, everyone had their hearts in the right place. I really want to thank our suppliers for what they’ve done. It is making the collaboration a success."

Beyond participation among grain, milling and baking companies, the two executives foresee a time when other ingredient and perhaps packaging suppliers participate as well.

"Going forward, we hope the next time someone goes forward with a similar or the same program, we will make it easier when we say, ‘This is how we did it,’" Mr. Dean said.

Field to Family: Participating Companies

KANSAS CITY — The following companies made in-kind or cash contributions to Field to Family, a joint effort of the wheat food chain to bring wheat-based foods to food pantries:

· Testing and more

· Cargill AgHorizons

· CHS, Inc.

· DeBruce Grain

· Equity Marketing Alliance, L.L.C.

· Country Hedging Inc.

· Horizon Milling, L.L.C.

· Hostess Brands

· Gavilon Grain, L.L.C.

· Louis Dreyfus Commodities

· The Scoular Co.

· Shay Grain Co.

· Team Marketing Alliance, L.L.C.

· West Plains Co.

· WindRiver Grain, L.L.C.

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