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When the Pandemic Hit Spartanburg’s Most Vulnerable, Morrison Helped Feed Them

The Morrison Food and Nutrition Services team at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System has been donating food to a local food bank for several years.  But when COVID-19 hit last year, those needing food increased four-fold, with a local food bank serving more than 800,000 people. And that’s when our team stepped up its efforts to help the community.

“The pandemic sent us many more people who needed a nutritious meal,” says Lou Sartor, executive director of the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen. “But we never lost a day providing meals largely because Morrison provided food five days a week. On many days, the local grocery stores didn’t have any food to donate, and Morrison became our main source of food for so many people.”

The increase in food donations last year was an extension of several years of cooperation between the company and the Soup Kitchen to take care of Spartanburg’s most vulnerable population.

Because of the long working relationship, when the pandemic hit, the process to assist was already in place. Each day, Rusty Goins, Morrison’s production manager, coordinated food donations with the Soup Kitchen’s pickup crew at the hospital. When people began losing jobs and flooding the Soup Kitchen, Morrison was among the first to know and react.

“The drivers let Rusty know there were lines around the block and entire families needed food,” said Mark Pearce, Morrison’s System Director. “When the demand exploded, it gave us a deeper sense of community that was somewhat missing since everyone was isolated. When we heard the lines were wrapped around the block, it had an emotional impact on us.”

In addition to providing food donations daily, Pearce saw the need to do more.  So, he organized a canned food drive in the hospital’s café to feed people during the holidays. The drive enabled Morrison associates, medical staff, and hospital visitors to purchase cases of corn, yams, green beans, and other canned food items.

“The canned food drive tapped into an organizational need to make a difference,” Pearce says. Morrison associates, nurses, and hospital officials pulled together to make it work. Kerri Stewart, a registered dietitian in the Utley Heart Resource Center, developed signs requesting donations and worked with Lori Boyd, Registered Nurse Coordinator at the heart center, to promote the event. Jill Dugaw, the hospital’s manager of volunteer services, contacted her volunteers and asked for food donations.

The additional canned food helped the Soup Kitchen feed more than 1,500 people and deliver meals to 450 more.  Morrison’s donations accounted for more than 1,500 pounds of canned food, amounting to 8,410 servings.

“This random act of kindness allowed our staff to proceed with plans for the traditional Thanksgiving meal,” said Sartor. “We went from having not one can of cranberry sauce to having an abundance. And we were able to serve families a wonderful meal because of the compassion of the Morrison associates.”

The food donations have earned high praise from hospital officials and community leaders. “We are so proud of the ongoing work that our Morrison team has done for the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen,” says Parkes Coggins, vice president of Cardiac Services and Operations. “Their involvement has been so much more than writing a check. Mark has worked with them to find out how they can best help this crucial safety-net organization.”

The Morrison team’s commitment to helping out those who are most vulnerable has a deep history, going back to 2013 shortly after Pearce began his career there with Morrison.

At that time, Morrison wanted to sponsor a child as part of the local Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program that provides Christmas gifts for children. Because some Morrison associates work as volunteers at the Soup Kitchen, the team sponsored a family with three children that year.  Over time, participation increased and the team now sponsors four families.

In 2020, the team did even more. Because so many people were standing in line this past winter to get food, Morrison associates raised enough money to donate two heaters to keep people warm. And one associate donated $500 to help those in need.

Feeding the hungry has also been a top community priority. In March 2018, a food drive was held to provide local school children with food during spring break.  Since many children get their meals from the local schools, the Morrison team assembled bags of healthy, nutritious food to provide plenty of meals during the break. Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System’s Carole Mabry, RD, CNM has been a key part of our success, as she has kept our team organized throughout the entire time.

“Our involvement is based on connections with the community, from our employee involvement and hospital outreach education programs,” Pearce says. “That’s why is so important to support a variety of community nutrition education initiatives and feeding programs.”

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