When my kids entered middle school, my husband and I decided to transfer them from a small private school into Metro Nashville Public Schools. While the shift was a big one, perhaps the most eye-opening change for me was when the PTSO asked for parents to help fill backpacks with food that could then be sent home with some students in order to ensure they had access to food over the upcoming holiday break. My family had previously volunteered at Second Harvest Food Bank filling backpacks with food for families in need, but this was different in that we were filling backpacks to be given to my kids’ classmates — it put a face on the issue of hunger, and a very real issue it is.

According to Feeding America, 967,430 Tennesseans struggle with hunger, and of those, 295,570 are children. “We know that meals matter — families who share meals together have children who do better in every aspect of their lives,” says Melissa Eads, Corporate Affairs Manager of Kroger’s Nashville Division. “We also know that more than 40% of the food produced in the United States goes to waste, yet 1 in 8 Americans struggle with hunger. Food waste undermines food security.”

Nearly 300,000 Tennessee children struggle with hunger, a statistic that Kroger is working hard to decrease. Image: Metro Nashville Public Schools

When talking about food security, it helps to define food insecurity, which is defined by Feeding America as “the USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” While this may not be a chronic issue for some families, it can be a struggle when a family must choose between paying bills and putting a meal — let alone a nutritious one — on the table at times.

In fact, according to the 2016 Map the Meal Gap study, “Twenty-nine percent of individuals in food insecure households have incomes above 185 percent of the poverty line,” which may render them ineligible for the government’s food assistance programs, which further underscores the importance of charitable food assistance from places like Second Harvest Food Bank and programs like Kroger’s Zero Hunger Zero Waste initiative.

“Kroger has long been committed to fighting hunger, but we realized we could do more to combat the dual problems of hunger and food waste, ” explains Melissa. “Our purpose is to Feed the Human Spirit, and Zero Hunger Zero Waste is a fundamental pillar for how we’re doing that.”

Zero Hunger Zero Waste is a company-wide initiative — and one that everyone gets behind!

Zero Hunger Zero Waste is a company-wide initiative — and one that everyone gets behind!

The Zero Hunger Zero Waste initiative launched last year and has, to date, accomplished 77% waste diversion throughout the entire Kroger company.

Zero Hunger Zero Waste officially launched last year, and now as it approaches its one-year anniversary, the initiative has moved the mark in ways that are nothing short of amazing. “In 2017, Kroger — as a whole — donated 325 million meals, gave $181 million in charitable donations to help end hunger, and rescued 91.2 million pounds of food from our facilities through our Food Rescue program,” shares Melissa, adding, “We achieved Zero Waste to landfills for our 34th (of 36) manufacturing plant, and we reached 77% waste diversion company-wide.”

Zero Hunger Zero Waste is also making a huge impact at a local level. In fact, I was surprised to learn about some of the components of the initiative. For instance, all stores in Kroger’s Nashville division compost food that is unsold and unable to be donated. They also helped Second Harvest Food Bank launch The Produce Truck, which delivers fresh produce to those in need in Davidson County. The Produce Truck helps mitigate one of the biggest obstacles underserved populations share: not only getting food, but getting healthy food. Additionally, Kroger supports Urban Green Lab’s Sustainable Classroom curriculum, which trains teachers on how to integrate sustainability education into the classroom setting.

The Produce Truck delivers healthy foods to underserved communities — all in an effort of fighting hunger.

The Produce Truck delivers healthy foods to underserved communities — all in an effort of fighting hunger.

Last year's check recipients were able to put their funds to great use!

Last year’s check recipients were able to put their funds to great use, and as we close in on the first anniversary of Zero Hunger Zero Waste, more funds are soon to be distributed.

“This year, we debuted at #6 on Fortune Magazine’s list of companies changing the world,” adds Melissa. And Kroger also announced recently that they are phasing out single-use plastic bags across the company by 2025, which is another significant step in their efforts of achieving Zero Waste.

“The goal of Zero Hunger Zero Waste is to end hunger in our communities and eliminate waste in our company by 2025,” explains Melissa. “This includes accelerating food donations to give 3 billion meals by 2025 and achieving zero food waste in all stores across the company by 2025.” A lofty goal? Perhaps. But if the past year is any indication, Kroger is serious about creating healthier and more sustainable communities across the country.

“Zero Hunger Zero Waste is all about making conscious decisions to help our neighbors, our communities and our planet,” Melissa adds. “We can all make small changes — composting, using reusable bags, contributing to food banks — and these all add up to a big difference!”

To learn more about Zero Hunger Zero Waste and to follow along on the company’s efforts, visit thekrogerco.com

This article is sponsored by Kroger.