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While the obesity epidemic has received a lot of attention in the U.S., hunger, particularly childhood hunger, is a serious problem that tends to be less understood by the American masses. More than 16 million kids (one in five) in the U.S. do not have access to the food they need, according to hunger-relief charity Feeding America.
But in the last few years, restaurants have become a powerful tool in the fight against hunger, and several programs are capitalizing on foodservice partners—including quick-serve restaurants—to bring food to those in need.
That is especially true this month, as September is Hunger Action Month. Many restaurants around the country are specifically running promotions to support Share Our Strength, a national organization that works to ensure no kid in America grows up hungry through its “No Kid Hungry” campaign. The nonprofit works with community groups, activists, food programs, and restaurants to surround impoverished children with nutritious food where they live, learn, and play.
This month, thousands of restaurants across the country will support Share Our Strength through its “Dine Out For No Kid Hungry” fundraising effort.
Share Our Strength president Tom Nelson says his organization employs a “think global, act local” philosophy. Restaurants have an innate interest in ending hunger, he says; just as they care about feeding their hungry customers, they’re concerned about those in the community who don’t have access to consistent or quality nourishment.
“There is such a shared concern for the cause of feeding people,” he says. “Restaurants are natural partners in feeding the hungry.”
This vested mutual interest is why the “Dine Out For No Kid Hungry” campaign fits nicely with restaurants’ objective to feed people, Nelson says. “Dine Out For No Kid Hungry” is a way to bring attention to the issue of childhood hunger and raise funds at the same time.
Restaurant participants use either custom or provided promotional materials to support “Dine Out for No Kid Hungry.” No two campaigns are alike—part of the appeal—and individual stores have set fundraising goals for themselves to inspire friendly competition among brands. Restaurant management can tailor their campaign according to their market needs and past indicators.
Nelson says these promotions generate both quantifiable and unquantifiable results. The most tractable metric is the actual money raised by the promotion, but perhaps equally as important is the sense of goodwill created among restaurant participants. Nelson points to research that indicates consumers feel more positive about patronizing a business that is involved in the community, which can translate into loyalty.
“It makes the customer feel good about the purchase,” he says.
(Want to learn more about No Kid Hungry? Check out the video below!)
Even better, Nelson says, is that “Dine Out for No Kid Hungry” inspires individual restaurant employees, as well. He cites employee engagement as one of the factors behind the campaign’s success. “Employees feel better about the company they work for if they contribute to the community,” he says.
Quick-service burger chain Shake Shack has succeeded in capitalizing on the feel-good aspect of Share Our Strength’s programs through its Great American Shake Sale. Shake Shack raised more than $285,000 during its second-annual Great American Shake Sale, a month-long fundraising initiative that benefited the broader “No Kid Hungry” campaign. Throughout the month of May, guests who donated $2 or more at any Shake Shack received a complimentary shake on their next visit. In 2012, the chain, known for its all-American fare, raised $130,000 for the cause.
Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti says those good feelings derived from giving back should not be understated. “If your staff’s not on board, it won’t go anywhere,” he says about executing campaigns like the Great American Shake Sale.
Garutti offers a few pointers to restaurants wishing to implement a cause-marketing program like “No Kid Hungry” chain-wide: Start at the bottom, he says, as the ground-level team must drive the initiative. He cites an example in his stores: “Our staff get so pumped up about [the campaign],” he says. “We have a contest within the company, where locations compete [to raise money for the cause]. The winning team gets a picture with the check.”
Garutti also says brands can work to form a deeper relationship with their customers through “No Kid Hungry.” Being transparent about where the money will go is critical to success, he says. “When you donate, you’re giving the money directly, so it’s not a nebulous concept of where the money might go.”
Italian quick-service restaurant chain Fazoli’s is using its popular breadsticks to fight hunger in the U.S. The Lexington, Kentucky–based chain partnered with Feed the Children, a disaster and hunger-relief organization.
As part of the second-annual “Breadsticks For Hunger” tour, Fazoli’s employees, also known as “Breadstick Ambassadors,” travelled across the U.S. in a specially outfitted food truck from June 17 to August 15, with stops in 22 cities. Volunteers and truck staff handed out the trademark breadsticks, hot from the oven, and encouraged the public to support Feed the Children.