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Produce and retail industries aid survivors of Haiti earthquake

by Christina DiMartino | January 24, 2010
Aid for survivors of the Jan. 12 catastrophic 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti is pouring in from around the world, including from the food industry.

On Jan. 14, Wakefern Food Corp. in Elizabeth, NJ, announced in a press release that on behalf of its ShopRite and PriceRite stores, it will donate $250,000 to the American Red Cross to assist in the relief efforts for earthquake victims in Haiti.

"Lending a helping hand to the communities we serve is at the heart of our business," Joseph Colalillo, chairman of the board and chief executive officer for Wakefern, said in the press release. "However, in times when catastrophic natural disasters occur such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and now the devastating earthquake in Haiti, we proudly stretch out our hands beyond our borders to assist others. It is our hope that our donation will contribute toward alleviating the damage and suffering left by the earthquake."

ShopRite Partners in Caring is a year-round, community-based, hunger- fighting initiative that works with more than 50 food industry manufacturers to provide $2 million annually to qualified charitable agencies in the Northeast. Since its founding in 1999, it has donated $22 million to more than 1,400 charities and other organizations that aid those in need.

Nancy Ferguson, public relations manager for the Produce Marketing Association in Newark, DE, told The Produce News that the organization was planning to post information on its web site to help connect members interested in getting involved and making donations to Red Cross relief efforts.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people in Haiti," said Ms. Ferguson. "The Red Cross is conducting a text-to-donate campaign. It raised $8 million in $10 increments within a few days following the earthquake. Many of us here at PMA have participated, and we encourage those in the industry to do the same." Donors can text "HAITI" to 90999, and a $10 donation will be added to their cell phone bill. As of late Monday, Jan. 18, the campaign had raised $21 million in contributions.

Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for the United Fresh Produce Association in Washington, DC, said that the produce industry is comprised of a giving group of people.

"During the days following the earthquake, United Fresh did some outreach with relief organizations in Washington, including the Red Cross and the World Food Program," said Mr. Gilmer. "Food donations from the perishables community are not what are needed in Haiti now. They need money or supply commodities like water. We encourage those in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry to extend their hands in any way possible."

Jessie Capote, vice president of operations for J&C Tropicals in Miami, told The Produce News Jan. 18 that the company was collaborating with organizations to offer its facility as a staging area for the distribution of relief supplies.

"We are exchanging information with Miami-Dade County, the Dade County Farm Bureau and a local charity," said Mr. Capote. "We have asked steamship lines to offer up a couple of containers that can be loaded at our facility. We hope that movement will begin by the end of this week."

J&C Tropicals has an exclusive Haitian mango program. Mr. Capote said that the company works with five growers that produce close to a million units each year. "We have heard from our growing partners in Haiti," he said. "The people are safe, but we are still hazy on details of how the facilities held up. The port won't be operational for some time, and the roads are a mess. From an infrastructure standpoint, it's catastrophic."

Mr. Capote said that besides the business impact, he finds the situation in Haiti extremely sad. "To watch people who have already had to endure so much now go through this horrible ordeal is very emotional," he said. "Haiti was hit with four major hurricanes in 2008, and now this earthquake -- and the country was at the brink of disaster even before these events."

Yet another initiative is underway in Prescott, WA. Ralph and Cheryl Broetje established the Vista Hermosa Foundation for the purpose of using proceeds from Broetje Orchards to serve children and under-served communities. It has committed $400,000 to four separate organizations providing disaster relief efforts in Haiti.

In a press release dated Jan. 15, the foundation announced that it is providing contributions of $150,000 to World Vision to distribute family survival kits, $150,000 to Food for the Poor to distribute food and water and $50,000 each to Beyond Borders and Haiti Partners to support local organizations working in the most needy communities.

As a way to connect the local community and children to this relief effort, the foundation, through its Young Givers Program, will match any funds intended for these organizations. The funds raised are restricted to youngsters living in the Walla Walla and Tri-Cities areas of Washington.

Ed Loyd, manager of corporate communications for Chiquita Brands International Inc., headquartered in Cincinnati, shared an announcement with The Produce News that it issued to its employees on Jan. 15.

Signed by Fernando Aguirre, chairman and chief executive officer of Chiquita, the announcement said, in part, "We were all saddened to learn about the massive 7.0 earthquake that hit near the capital of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, this week. Since then, many employees have been asking how they can help. Today, we are launching a $100,000 matching gifts program targeted to relief agencies assisting in disaster response on the ground. So, for every dollar you contribute through our employee-led disaster support organization, We Care, we will match and donate dollar for dollar with the goal to generate up to $200,000 in total for disaster assistance."