“It’s great to have a big heart but it’s no good without a big brain.”
Marc Perlman, president of Ocean State Job Lot, wasn’t bragging Wednesday morning. Rather, he was speaking of all that goes into the Three Square Meals program and the delivery of 11 million meals to 16 food banks and pantries throughout the northeast.
The scope of the program is gargantuan, with a convoy of 22 tractor-trailer trucks, each carrying about 35,000 pounds of food, leaving Job Lot’s Distribution Center in Quonset yesterday morning.
Job Lot is at the hub of the effort, with assistance coming from vendors that donate products as well funds that are raised between November and December through a combination of in-store customer donations at the register, contributions from the business community and matching funds from the Job Lot Charitable Foundation.
This was the sixth annual convoy staged by the Ocean State Job Lot Foundation and, like those in prior years, more than 250 people – many of them managers and employees from the company’s 131 stores in New England, New York, and New Jersey – were present for the sendoff. There was fanfare with speeches, video messages from the state’s Congressional delegation, ready to march music by the Lafayette Band of North Kingstown and a pair of Patriots’ cheerleaders who posed for pictures with Job Lot drivers.
Perlman’s point is that it takes partners to pull off the Three Square Meals program.
“We have to work together, we have to be smart,” he said.
David Sarlitto, executive director of the foundation, made that clear as he unveiled the foundation’s latest effort to address food insecurity. Sarlitto told the story of the intent to distribute 30,000 military style boots to needy people that Job Lot purchased at a discounted more than a year ago. Sarlitto found the task more difficult than he imagined. He connected with the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation and with their help setup a network to distribute the boots and then coats to veterans and active military personnel.
What Sarlitto discovered is that many of these same people could also use food assistance. Dropping off food to area pantries would only reach limited numbers, so as Sarlitto told the gathering in the Job Lot warehouse, the concept of a food pantry on wheels was born. Now in the development stage, the mobile canteen, which Sarlitto believes is the first of its kind in the country, would operate 52 weeks a year and provide food to veterans and active members of the military only. It will start in Massachusetts with the intent of expanding to other states with Job Lot stores.
Kasim Yarn, Rhode Island Director of Veterans Affairs, is ready to help.
Citing issues of addiction, homelessness and food insecurity, Yarn said, “this is a critical time in American history.” But he offered hope saying that he believes, “New England is that beacon for the rest of the country…I see New Englanders working together to solve these issues.”
Bernie Beaudreau, director of the Connecticut Food Bank and former Rhode Islander, offered a glimpse of the magnitude of food insecurity.
“Hunger in America is still higher than it was ten years ago,” he said. He said there were 40,000 Connecticut residents deemed to face food insecurity last year as compared to 30,000 in 2007.
He said Ocean State Job Lot takes a direct step to address the problem.
“You make a better community…your customers are reminded to care for those with less,” he said.
Alan Perlman, Job Lot owner and principal, listed some of the items being carried by the convoy, from soups and beans to pasta from Italy, Greek olive oil and gourmet foods plus 150,000 pounds of peanuts. He told of learning of deals on foods that were about to expire, such as 250,000 Oscar Meyer franks, and knowing he could get them out to food banks across the region before they wouldn’t be of use.
“We buy it if we think we can stretch a dollar,” he said.
“We’ve very proud of what we do; we’re very good at what we do and we’re getting better,” he said.