Keith Nunes

News of catastrophic natural disasters during the past few weeks has come at a blinding pace. Whether hurricanes striking Texas and Florida, wild fires in the Northwest or earthquakes in Mexico, information about the devastation and loss of life has become frighteningly repetitive.

A single major natural disaster stretches the resources of federal, state and local first responders as well as relief groups. Events unfolding in such rapid succession and over huge geographic swaths create heightened pressure on those in need of aid and those charged with rescue and recovery.

It is in these instances that the food and beverage industry plays such a critical and unique role in disaster relief. Rescue and recovery operations cannot function without sustenance, and repeatedly, and often without fanfare, food manufacturers shift resources to provide food and hydration to those involved.

In many instances, these disaster relief efforts go well beyond the act of donating money. Many companies have set up rapid-response programs. Shortly after Hurricane Harvey, for example, companies like Bimbo Bakeries USA, Harris Baking Co., Hugg & Hall Equipment Co., Peppersource and Tyson Foods worked together to efficiently maximize relief efforts.

Tyson Foods disaster relief
Tyson Foods works with Team Rubicon to deploy its Mobile Command Center, which includes sleeping quarters, and office and storage space for the group’s staff and volunteers.

Tyson Foods also works with a group called Team Rubicon, a disaster relief partner comprised of military veterans, to deploy its Mobile Command Center, which was donated by Tyson Foods in 2014 and includes sleeping quarters, and office and storage space for the group’s staff and volunteers.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., through its Emergency Operations Center, organizes and mobilizes the delivery of truckloads of water into affected areas. Cargill, partnering with Feeding America and the Red Cross, sent food to those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“With five facilities in the Houston area and more than 130 employees affected, safety was our first priority,” said Michelle Grogg, vice-president of corporate responsibility and sustainable development at Cargill. “Once we determined everyone was safe and accounted for, our employees immediately wanted to know what they could do to help. With programs in place to activate employee and corporate giving, and long-standing relationships with our trusted partners Feeding America and the Red Cross, we were able to quickly get our donations to those who need them most.”

It is not just the industry’s largest companies that are responding, either. Land O’Frost, a processed meats manufacturer based in Munster, Ind., used its logistical capabilities to gather non-perishable donations and ship them to Houston to support the victims of Hurricane Harvey. The company also was preparing to send aid to those affected by Hurricane Irma.

These examples are only a small sampling of what industry members are doing to support disaster relief efforts. All involved are to be congratulated for the time and resources expended to provide aid to those in need.

For manufacturers exploring ways to assist more in such times of need coordination with organizations with disaster relief experience is critical. News of significant pockets of hunger in devastated areas of the Virgin Islands serves as a poignant reminder that the rapid shipment of product to affected areas may be of extraordinary value. To reach that potential such shipments must be coordinated with those agencies on the front lines to ensure foodstuffs reach those individuals most in need.