When Arby’s Hungry for Happiness mobile tour pulls into town, people notice. It’s hard to miss the fire-engine red semi truck and trailer emblazoned with a beaming young girl enchanted by a bite of giant watermelon.
But the rolling outfit, on the streets in partnership with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, isn’t just a roving billboard for the Arby’s brand; it also represents relief for millions of children across the country, helping to feed them while they are out of school.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 21 million schoolchildren in America receive free or reduced-price school lunches during the school year, but only three million or so of those kids receive a free summer meal when school is out.
Tom Nelson, president of Share Our Strength, an organization that aims to end hunger, says summer hunger is a severe issue in this country. “Kids dread the end of school,” he says. “They are scared and hungry.”
The organization developed the No Kids Hungry initiative with private citizens, government officials, business leaders, and others to implement solutions that break down the barriers that keep kids from healthy food.
For Arby’s, which counts within its core values the ideas of engaging employees, making a positive community impact, and committing to an issue that makes sense for a food company, stumbling across Share Our Strength’s mission offered the perfect blend of focus, action, and results, says Kate Atwood, executive director for Arby’s Foundation, the fundraising arm of Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc.
“No Kids Hungry is unique in that it has a long term goal of solving the summer hunger problem,” Atwood says. “In our minds, this isn’t just about meeting the need today; it’s set up to end the problem in the coming years.”
This year, for the third year in a row, Arby’s Hungry for Happiness tour traversed the country, stopping in 25 states and distributing thousands of healthy meals. Though getting meals to hungry kids is what anchors the tour’s purpose, each stop reaches far more than bellies. Once the truck is parked, out rolls the fun, much like a traveling carnival: Red pop-up tents offer shade for play stations featuring bean-bag tosses, hula-hoop contests, and jump-rope challenges. Advance media exposure announces the coming attraction, so droves of anxious children and families await its arrival.
“It’s like a rite of passage to have fun in summer,” Atwood says. “We get to help these kids associate summer with that feeling.” Every child leaves with a healthy meal and a free book.
Because both Arby’s and Share Our Strength are interested in long-term solutions to solving hunger, much thought goes into strategically partnering with local food banks and community centers. Atwood says families who need assistance often aren’t aware of local resources, so the tour works to draw attention to a specific local resource. It also leaves behind a $5,000 grant at every meal site. She says the centers often struggle to fund things like utensils, garbage cans, and less obvious expenses.
“We really have two audiences for these tours,” Atwood says. “Those who need the help and those who can help.” To address citizens who want to be a force for change, the Hungry for Happiness tour plans a second event at each stop, such as a benefit night through a local Arby’s restaurant, a zoo, or other local attraction where they can address the hunger issue and outline ways to help.
Each stop could not happen without the volunteer manpower from local Arby’s restaurants, an additional but intentional bonus that Atwood says moves team members and franchisees toward the heart of the issue.
“What excites us is seeing them on the front lines of this important work. It makes them more passionate about the fundraising we do,” she says, adding that many employees look to the workplace as a forum for making a difference. “With this, we are able to deliver that equity, the value of where they put their time.”
Emphasizing social entrepreneurship in this way can positively affect economic development, a business’s bottom line, and employee relations, says John Urban, senior partner of The Philanthropic Initiative, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote the growth of strategic philanthropy through research, educational programming, and consulting services.
“This isn’t just about writing checks,” he says. “It’s about using a company’s strengths and assets, such as employee willingness, supply chains, vendor relations, in-kind gifts, and customer relationships. Bringing those together can be powerful in helping a community and advancing a brand’s market value.”
Sincerity and genuine employee engagement in community efforts are critical to make programs like the Hungry for Happiness tour successful, Urban says. “Today’s Millennial workforce especially wants good corporate citizenship,” he adds. “They expect a job to be more than a paycheck.”
Nelson says Arby’s level of financial involvement in the No Kids Hungry movement is unprecedented, and he is “eager to see more of the restaurant community get on board and say, ‘Hey, this is a problem we can help solve.’” He recognizes that not all restaurants can commit to the same financial level, but says every bit counts. He suggests the Share Our Strength’s turnkey No Kid Hungry Dine Out campaign as the easiest point of entry for quick-service restaurant brands looking to make a difference; brands like Corner Bakery and Shake Shack are a few of the participants in the fundraising campaign.
Share our Strength provides training materials, collateral, and signage to help design a program that works at whatever level a restaurant needs. “It doesn’t cost anything, and we have restaurants of every shape and size participating,” Nelson says.
Atwood says restaurants have an opportunity to make a great impact on hunger by aggregating the power of what they already do well. “The best way to start the work is to get your employees excited about it, raise some money, and grow from there,” she says.
Whatever a restaurant does in terms of community citizenship must be genuine to be effective, Urban says, because employees and customers are savvy. “We ask our clients, ‘Would you undertake this even with zero publicity?’” he says.
For Arby’s, the answer is yes. The Hungry for Happiness tour is no quick fix, Atwood says; rather, it’s “about meeting the need overnight and solving the problem over time.”