BOWLING AGAINST HUNGER
The college football bowl season, which begins this weekend, celebrates food and eating almost as much as it celebrates gridiron excellence. Just consider how many of this season’s bowls – Bowls! The very word comes straight from the kitchen -- are sponsored by food companies or named after food:
Four are sponsored by restaurants: the Little Caesars, Chick-fil-A and Outback Bowls, and, the newest addition to this category, the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl.
Two are sponsored by a popular snack food: the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. (Also, what’s a Fiesta without food?)
Two are named after foods: the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.
Three are played in foodie-sounding stadiums: the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando hosts the Champs Sports and Capital One Bowls, and the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s pigskin extravaganza is played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. (A most fortuitous pairing: juice to wash down the beef.)
All this football mania is topped off, of course, by the national tailgating ritual and professional football championship known as the Super Bowl. That title conjures up images of a really, really big bowl of food, appropriate for a country that has long fancied itself as the world’s breadbasket.
But wait! This season, at long last, there’s a bowl game sponsored by a food company that will benefit those without enough to eat: the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. It will be played in San Francisco on Jan. 9 and feature Nevada vs Boston College.
“We’re the only game directly connected to a social cause,” says Doug Kelly of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Committee. (The uDrove Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, is connected to the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.)
“It was Kraft’s initiative,” says Kelly, who explains that the giant food company took over title sponsorship of what used to be called the Emerald Bowl, which was named for the snack nut brand of the previous sponsor, Diamond Foods. “Kraft was looking for a forum where they could draw attention to the issue of hunger.”
Raising the clamor on hunger through football; now that’s something to cheer about. Cutting through the gluttony of the holidays to shout: Remember those who struggle to put food on the table for their family!
“We have one goal: raise awareness and resources to give as many as 20 million meals to Feeding America,” says Stephen Chriss, Kraft’s senior director of corporate scale and marketing partnerships.
The Fight Hunger Bowl culminates a Kraft marketing program called Huddle to Fight Hunger, which began this past fall as the football season kicked off. It was the company’s largest multi-brand initiative, involving such iconic names as Oreo, Ritz, Planters, Kool-Aid, Maxwell House, Oscar Mayer, Miracle Whip and the ubiquitous Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Consumers of these products didn’t donate money directly, but their actions prompted Kraft to make contributions. As Chriss explains: “Any coupon redeemed, we donated a meal. If you went to our website and joined the huddle, or our Facebook page and clicked ‘Like’, we donated a meal.”
As of yesterday, that total was more than 18.9 million meals that will be donated to Feeding America, the nation’s food banking network. And the aid comes at a critical time, as the economic crisis and high unemployment have created unprecedented demand at the thousands of food banks served by Feeding America.
As you pour over the football statistics in the coming weeks, consider these stats from a national survey reported by Feeding America earlier this year:
Through its network of food banks and the agencies they serve, Feeding America provides emergency food assistance to 37 million people each year, including nearly 14 million children. That’s a whopping 46% increase over just four years ago. It means that one in eight Americans receives food assistance from the nation’s charitable food distribution system at some time during the year. Feeding America distributes more than 3 billion pounds of food and grocery products to 61,000 agencies nationwide every year.
“The numbers are still continuing to rise, the food banks are still struggling,” says Phil Zepeda, Feeding America’s senior vice president of communications. “The need has never been greater.”
So, as the Fight Hunger Bowl nears, the push toward the 20 million meals goal intensifies. The Nevada and Boston College fan bases will be engaging in a texting competition that will prompt more Kraft donations. And the bowl committee in San Francisco is donating three meals for each ticket sold to the city’s leading social service agencies: Glide Memorial Church, St. Anthony’s Dining Room and the San Francisco Food Bank.
“We didn’t just want to be spectators,” says Doug Kelly of the bowl committee. “We wanted to take an active role in the community.”
You can watch the inaugural Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on ESPN. And don’t leave the TV at halftime to get something to eat. For that is when Kraft will present a check to Feeding America so others can eat.
Feeding America calculates that every dollar it receives helps it secure and distribute 7 meals through local food banks. So the donation of 20 million meals should yield a check of about $3 million.
The money is a valuable contribution. But for the hungry of America, and for the one billion hungry around the world, the clamor-raising of the Fight Hunger Bowl is priceless.
For as you watch that game or any of the games this holiday season, remember this: Far too many bowls remain empty.