Editor's note:A Spanish-language version of this story is also available.
The Wells Fargo Holiday Food Bank is off to a rousing start, having already collected 40,486 pounds of food — enough for 52,658 meals — in a little over two weeks this holiday season.
Wells Fargo has turned its branches into food banks in a nationwide effort with United Way to fight hunger by collecting nonperishable foods and monetary donations from Nov. 28 until Dec. 30.
The hope is that, by working together, Wells Fargo and United Way can help support the 41.2 million Americans the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates are “food insecure” — meaning they can’t always obtain adequate nutrition.
People all over the country are supporting the cause, making donations in specially marked bins at Wells Fargo branches and a pop-up food bank tour, which is making stops in 17 cities from New York to California.
Michael Peter Balzary, also known as bassist “Flea” of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is among those who’ve pitched in to help. When he saw the pop-up food bank just outside a grocery store he’d just visited in Los Angeles, he went back into the store and re-emerged with a cart full of nonperishable food.
“This is all for you guys!” he said, nodding toward the cart. “I only came in for some shaving cream!”
Mary Mack, head of Wells Fargo Community Banking, said the benevolent response syncs with a result from the company’s November survey about food bank support and holiday donations. It found that 83 percent of Americans were more likely to donate food this holiday season if they could do it at a convenient location in their local community.
“Thanks to everyone who has visited one of our branches or the mobile pop-up food banks to participate,” said Mack, who has been stocking up for the pop-up food bank’s stop in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Dec. 20. “We want to make it easier for everyone to enjoy holiday meals together.”
‘Hunger has no zip code’
One in seven Americans relies on food banks and pantries for meals, according to Feeding America (PDF). One of them is Amy Millar, a mother of three in Pennsylvania who unexpectedly found herself a single parent earlier this year.
“For me, as a college-educated woman who had always worked, shopping at a food bank was never something I had experienced,” said Millar, who spends summers teaching a program for children at a local community college and works the rest of the year as a respite care provider and workshop leader for parents of children with disabilities. “When I couldn’t make ends meet on my own, I found myself in limbo.”
Millar said she made too much to qualify for state aid, so she turned to Seeds of Hope — the same food pantry she once took teens to volunteer at in Dresher, Pennsylvania. As a member of the Share Food Program’s network of food pantries in greater Philadelphia, Seeds of Hope is also one of the beneficiaries of the Wells Fargo Holiday Food Bank campaign.
“Having a resource like Seeds of Hope available helps you get back on your feet — and hopefully you’ll be able to go from shopper to contributor later,” Millar said. “I don’t know what we would have done without it.”
The campaign couldn’t have come at a better time in Houston, where the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey has increased the number of people turning to the Houston Food Bank, the largest food bank in the nation.
The organization feeds 800,000 people each year through the hunger-relief agencies it serves, and half of the households have at least one working adult, said Paula McKenzie, its director of major gifts. Distributions increased threefold in the wake of Harvey, she said.
“Efforts such as Wells Fargo Holiday Food Bank campaign bring to light the issue of hunger and food insecurity in local communities, which is a year-round problem,” McKenzie said. “Many people do not realize how prevalent hunger is in their own backyard and that hunger has no zip code.
“It also increases support for volunteerism and how important volunteers are to food banks across the country,” she said. “During the holiday season, many are seeking an opportunity to help others in their communities but are not sure where to start. The visibility of these campaigns offers a direction for people who want to get involved with their local banks by donating food, funds, and time.”
Fighting hunger, together
The enthusiasm for the campaign has been contagious among Wells Fargo team members and customers. Cupertino Sanchez, a Wells Fargo branch manager in Buckeye, Arizona, said young families, empty nesters, farmers, and small business owners in his community have already filled three collection boxes to the brim — and there’s more on the way.
“I’ve been the manager here for six years and love this community — it’s why I get involved in our rodeos, parades, and other community events,” Sanchez said. “This type of response shows the kind of people Buckeye has, and their hearts. We look out for each other.”
A customer who saw the Wells Fargo Holiday Food Bank collection bin near the teller line in Belle Glade, Florida, made a 24-mile round trip to return with 50 cans of food and other items to donate. Branch Manager Shawn Davis Jr. said he was floored.
“He told us, ‘I love this bank and especially the Belle Glade branch, and wanted to give back,’” Davis said. “We feel the same way, and have loved the opportunity to participate ourselves, too.”
In addition to the campaign, Wells Fargo Volunteers chapters are working with 41 food-related nonprofits this month to deliver meals, sort food, and fight hunger in 14 states and the District of Columbia.
In one such project, more than 100 Wells Fargo volunteers gathered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for the Forsyth Backpack Program, filling 4,000 bags with 16,000 meals so students wouldn’t go hungry over the holiday break.
“Being able to help someone else definitely puts you in the holiday spirit,” said Ben Yates, one of the Wells Fargo volunteers. “Hopefully, they’ll enjoy these meals we’ve prepared for them and can focus on having fun with family and friends instead of having to worry about food.”
Visit wellsfargo.com/foodbank to learn how you can help make more meals possible for the hungry and #feeditforward this holiday season.