Shaw's reinstates food donations after Brunswick publicity

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BRUNSWICK — The abrupt end of food donations from a local supermarket to the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program last December turned out to be what the program director now calls “a crazy blessing in disguise.”

The Shaw’s supermarket chain announced June 9 that it would reinstate its policy of donating perishable food near its sell-by date to food pantries across New England. The change is a direct result of publicity surrounding the situation in Brunswick, which was amplified by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

“(Pingree) reached out directly and sort of highlighted it for the president of the company and, because of that, they responded,” her spokesman, Willy Ritch, said in an interview Monday.

Shaw’s officially stopped donating perishable food to pantries through its Fresh Rescue program in 2013. A few Shaw’s stores, including the one in Brunswick, continued the program in spite of the policy change.

But last December, donations from the Brunswick store stopped suddenly and without explanation.

Following several local news reports, Pingree released a letter asking the company to explain the change. She was answered by a phone call from the company’s president at the time, Jim Rice.

Since, then Pingree’s office has been in touch with the company “pretty constantly,” Ritch said. The turnabout in corporate policy “is a big deal,” he said, because “(Shaw’s has) 154 stores around New England, and that’s going to result in a lot of food going to feed hungry families.”

Shaw’s spokeswoman Teresa Edington said in an email Tuesday that Shaw’s grocery stores in Maine and Massachusetts would resume the food donation program in “the near future.”

Shaw’s will also eventually expand the program to New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island, she said.

Asked why the Fresh Rescue program was discontinued in the first place, she said in 2013 Shaw’s was “re-evaluating a number of our business processes.”

“Though we discontinued the overall Fresh Rescue efforts, we continued to donate product from our two warehouses in Massachusetts and Maine … (and) some stores also provided product to food banks and other local organizations,” she added.

MCHPP Program Director Ethan Minton on Friday, June 10, said that in the end, the process and publicity were good for his organization.

“A few weeks after (Shaw’s) had stopped (donating), they resumed … not only did they resume, they gave us an additional two days of pick-ups,” he said. “It has led to an increase in the amount of food that we’ve received.”

“Overall this is an extremely positive story for us as an agency,” Minton added. It revealed how deep “the level of community support around this issue in the Brunswick area (is).”

That support, he added, pushed Shaw’s to start donating food to organizations like his all over New England.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

The Shaw’s supermarket at 147 Bath Road, Brunswick.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.