This past holiday season, ConAgra Foods’ Shine the Light on Hunger campaign achieved unprecedented results, raising the equivalent of 1,032,835 meals in six weeks through both in-kind and cash donations to the Food Bank for the Heartland. This enormously successful community effort in Omaha, Neb., where the company is based, evolved out of ConAgra Foods’ longtime sponsorship of the Holiday Lights Festival, an annual community event in downtown Omaha.
The festival begins each Thanksgiving evening when the mayor and local dignitaries flip a switch on more than 1 million holiday lights throughout the city’s downtown area. The lights remain on through early January as part of a citywide effort to showcase Omaha as a great place to live and work, said Chris Kircher, vice president of corporate affairs and president of the ConAgra Foods Foundation.
Under this festive backdrop, the city hosts many family-friendly, free events and activities throughout the holiday season, including a spectacular New Years Eve fireworks display in the downtown mall area. As part of the New Year’s Eve celebration, ConAgra Foods hosted a holiday party for employees on its nearby downtown campus for many years. In 2006, the company came up with another idea.
Following the lead of ConAgra Foods’ new CEO Gary Rodkin, the company decided to add a giving back component to the Holiday Lights Festival. It launched Shine the Light on Hunger, a campaign that engages the entire community to join employees in supporting a cause that’s near and dear to ConAgra Foods’ heart: the fight to end hunger. The campaign seeks to raise significant in-kind and cash resources for Food Bank for the Heartland.
As the centerpiece of the Shine the Light on Hunger campaign, ConAgra Foods constructs a 60-by-120-foot ice skating rink that’s open to the public for more than two weeks on its downtown campus. For $5, which includes skate rental, members of the public can enjoy the rink along with the knowledge that 100 percent of their admission and concession purchases of Swiss Miss hot chocolate, Hebrew National hot dogs and other ConAgra Foods products are contributed to the local Food Bank. The public also is encouraged to bring along non-perishable food items for collection in special Food Bank receptacles located near the rink. In lieu of a holiday party, ConAgra Foods employees in Omaha now volunteer to host kids in need at special events held at the ice rink and to prepare and serve holiday meals at several area shelters.
In 2011 nearly 21,000 people, a record number, took to the ice, and raised $125,000 for Food Bank for the Heartland via rink admission and concession sales alone. The ConAgra Foods Foundation matched donations to Food Bank for the Heartland dollar-for-dollar up to $100,000. Considering that each dollar raised equates to three meals for those in need, these donations played a major role in reaching a 1 million meal goal. In addition, community members donated more than 235,000 pounds of food to Food Bank for the Heartland, the equivalent of 183,593 meals for those in need. When combined with donations from other community efforts, these results exceeded the year’s goal and easily surpassed previous years’ campaign efforts.
In just five years, ConAgra Food’s Shine the Light on Hunger Campaign has become the centerpiece of the Holiday Lights Festival and its local recognition has skyrocketed,” Kircher remarked. Many of the other Holiday Lights sponsors have become engaged, connecting food drives and donation initiatives of their own to the campaign. Their participation this past year led to the establishment of the 1 million meal goal, which was easily surpassed.
In addition to generating significant resources for, and raising awareness of, this important issue, Kircher said the campaign helps ensure that “fewer people wonder where their next meal will come from or whether they’ll even be getting a meal.”