Rich’s tackling homelessness in Colorado: “Making Change with Change” program thriving

Little more than a year ago, Rich’s associate Dave Packer watched a news program highlighting a widespread homelessness epidemic. Today, Packer has actively engaged himself, and Rich Products, in efforts to be a part of the solution. Partnering with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Packer delivers on the Rich Promise to care for communities and people, ‘like only a family can.’

In March of 2012, Packer, the Mountain West Distribution Sales Manager for Rich’s US Foodservice Division, and Kelley Wood, Rich’s Customer Marketing Manager, launched a program called “Making Change with Change” that would see Rich’s donate 25 cents from every case sold in key product categories through December, 2012, to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (the Coalition).

 “I am very proud to have acted on my instinct to help,” said Packer. “It feels very good to have come up with a plan, to put a program together, and to feel strongly enough about it to bring it forward.”

To date, Rich’s has given some $7,300 to the Coalition and hopes to exceed a total of $10,000 by the end of the year.

But the program doesn’t end at case sales. Packer also worked with the Coalition and the broker office of Kirkpatrick Foods to deliver culinary vocational training to 12 Coalition clients who are currently employed at the organization’s Pizza Fusion franchise in downtown Denver, CO. The restaurant gives the Coalition clients a place to work, develop new skills and get back on their feet.

“Many of our clients will continue working in the service industry,” said Tommy Gordon, Resource Development and Marketing Coordinator, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. “Others use the Pizza Fusion program as a starting point to launch a new career after overcoming challenges in their lives.”

In October, twelve Pizza Fusion employees participated in a foodservice training seminar. Wood developed and presented the training along with Packer and Rich’s culinary manager, Mark Stussi. The team offered an industry overview to broaden the participants’ understanding of the dynamic foodservice business.

“The goal was to let them know that the food industry has so many exciting careers to offer that don’t involve waiting tables or serving drinks,” said Wood. “Unless you’re involved in the food industry you’re likely not aware of the breadth of opportunities within.”

“For this group it was an eye opening experience to see some facets of the food sales cycle from manufacturing food, marketing it, and the distribution portion,” said Stussi.

Afterwards, they ventured into the kitchen where Stussi introduced the participants to Rich’s Whip Topping base, cinnamon rolls and bread dough. He shared insider culinary tips and tricks to make exciting new menu ideas.

“To see these men and women who have fallen on though times, take interest in the food service industry warms my heart,” said Stussi.

During the class, one client shared a bit of her life story with Wood. “She told me that she dreamed of being a baker, that she’d even been accepted to Le Cordon Bleu, but she dropped out of high school just months before graduation,” said Wood.  

The client took her love of baking and desire to fulfill her lifelong goal and left the 4-hour training program determined to finish school and make her dream a reality.

Another client asked Wood for help with his resume. He explained that he once owned a home, held-down a good job and had a family. But circumstances had changed; he’d lost his job and shortly after his wife and family left him.

“Here was a man with a degree, a hardworking man, who had been dealt a set of bad circumstances,” said Wood.

“It was rewarding to work with these people, to see their gratitude, and to watch them get excited about their future again,” said Wood. “This was by far the most fulfilling event I’ve had the opportunity to participate in.”

“There was an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm from the clients who participated,” said Gordon. “They were very thankful for the opportunity to talk with people in the industry. All of the speakers were passionate and genuine; they supported and encouraged our clients. Each person walked away feeling more confident.”

That confidence is often critical to turning a life around. The Pizza Fusion program has seen 17 graduates move on to new jobs. But there is more work to be done. The Coalition supports some 16,000 homeless people in Colorado (65% are families with children, and nearly 13% are ex-military personnel) by providing transitional housing and vocational training to get families who have fallen on hard times back on their feet.

Packer feels Rich’s strong family values and deep commitment to ‘Bettering Communities’ enabled him to dream-up such a program. He also credits Rich’s leadership with having the foresight to encourage new and different ways to grow the business.

“I feel very fortunate to have had my boss and senior management’s support to run with this program,” said Packer. “Not every company would do this.”

Since March 1, 2012, Rich’s has sold an additional 551 cases of products promoted through the “Making Change for Change” program.

“Our sales are definitely up in these categories,” said Packer. Although the 2011/2012 Colorado ski season closed-out early and took potential sales with it, customers were eager to buy Rich’s products, support the Coalition and even consider new products offered in the program.

Packer takes pride in the program’s success, and he’s working to enhance the program and make it even stronger for 2013.

“It’s a privilege to help a great organization do some wonderful things for the good people of Denver and Colorado,” said Packer.

The Coalition is reaping the rewards of this new partnership, benefiting from Rich’s financial support and industry expertise, but also by learning a great deal about the success of business-to-business cause marketing campaigns. They can now leverage the Rich’s experience to build a model for approaching additional funding partners with a solid business case and proven sales results.