The last 12 months has been one of the biggest on record for Woolworths’ support of vulnerable Australians, particularly for the many individuals, families and farmers impacted by drought, then bushfire, and more recently COVID-19.
“Supporting the communities in which we operate has always been part of Woolworths Group’s DNA. However, in the current crisis and during recent natural disasters, community takes on a much broader definition,” said Brad Banducci, Woolworths Group CEO.
“We have recently doubled down on our commitment to work together with partners like OzHarvest, Fareshare and Foodbank to provide food to Australians who need it most, while our eCommerce business has remained focused on continuing to support vulnerable customers.”
Being part of almost every community in Australia means that store team members within Woolworths play an integral role in responding to immediate needs of their local community.
They provide the on-the-ground support for national community initiatives, particularly during times of disaster.
“Our store teams should be an integral part of their local community and are often directly impacted themselves by a disaster. They experience first hand what it is like on the ground, and this knowledge plays a key role in informing where our support should be directed in our national initiatives.
“It is about us listening to our team, customers and the community more broadly and uniting over the outcomes we all wish to support and achieving that through collaboration,” said Banducci.
The past year Woolworths and their major charity partners have been particularly busy.
The effects the ongoing drought has on the food industry are measurable in many ways, such as shortages of supplies and price fluctuations.
In 2018, what began as support at a local store level in regional stores in New South Wales and Queensland for communities impacted by drought, turned into Woolworths’ largest national fundraising appeal of the decade.
A combination of customer fundraising and corporate donations saw Woolworths raise over $8 million for Rural Aid, enabling them to deliver 37,231 tonnes of hay on 806 road trains to 3,233 farmers, as well two additional, full-time, on-the-ground counsellors.
In late 2019, with the drought worsening, bushfires were out of control, which saw businesses, homes, communities and habitat across multiple parts of the nation destroyed.
In response to the bushfires, Woolworths Bushfire Appeal in partnership with the Salvation Army was launched in November 2019 and raised over $5m.
When these bushfires hit, the Salvation Army sent in over 3,000 officers and volunteers to support the frontline emergency workers with hundreds of thousands of meals and light refreshments, many times teaming up with the local Woolworths store on the supply of goods and preparation of meals.
On New Year’s Eve and into early 2020, as the bushfires continued to devastate towns and communities, they also destroyed the habitats and food supplies of many vulnerable and endangered native species such as the Mountain Pygmy Possum, Brush-Tailed Rock Wallaby and Grey-Headed Flying Fox, which is so critical to pollination of many critical plant species.
New partnerships were borne out of the impacts the fires were having on wildlife in local communities.
“Our teams in the affected areas and our customers raised the alarm bells on what this loss of habitat could mean to the environment and asked for action to support the rescue and recovery of these animals,” said Simon Tracey, Woolworths community manager.
Woolworths began working with the NSW Government’s “Save our Species” program, to donate tonnes of fruits and vegetables directly into dozens of National Parks to feed these endangered species.
“We also extended our food rescue and recycling program to launch the ‘Woolworths Food for Wildlife Initiative’ with WIRES. This sees many of our stores donating surplus fresh food directly to the many local carers that nurturing these native animals back to health and returning them to new or old habitats as their naturally occurring food sources return,” added Tracey.
Woolworths earlier this year also expanded its S.T.A.N.D. (Support Through Australian Natural Disasters) program to incorporate four major partners – the Salvation Army, Rural Aid, Foodbank and Lifeline. Twenty cents from each sale of Woolworths Spring Water 24-pack and Woolworths Spring Water 10-litre pack is being donated to support the natural disaster work of these charities.
The initial spread of the coronavirus saw many people change their shopping behaviours and led to stockpiling of many essential products. At first it was toilet paper, but then the many key staple foods that Woolworths’ hunger relief partners rely on.
In March, Woolworths entered a new partnership with Meals on Wheels to supply toilet paper to help support their elderly and vulnerable clients across Australia.
“With the elderly being the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus and being asked to self-isolate, this partnership allowed us to work together with the entire supply chain and replenishment team,” said Tracey.
Woolworths worked with dozens of local Meals on Wheels centres to distribute 320,000 rolls of toilet paper, which was two packs for almost every Meals on Wheels client in the country, across hundreds of towns and cities in urban, rural, regional and remote locations.
One of Woolworths key commitments is to addressing food insecurity and food waste.
“That is why we have a number of food relief partnerships, but it was our relationships and support of our three largest partners – OzHarvest, Foodbank and FareShare, that we immediately increased to support those in immediate need as a result of COVID,” said Tracey.
FareShare, who operate Australia’s two largest community kitchens in Melbourne and Brisbane, could not rely on its army of volunteers, so Woolworths Group stepped in to provide support with chefs from its shuttered ALH hotels business to work within the kitchens through April, May and June.
Woolworths’ national Fresh Food rescue partner, OzHarvest, likewise saw a fluctuation in food supply and demand.
With an initial dip in available volumes of fresh food from donors, it then broke records with April being the largest volume of food they have ever rescued and distributed.
Foodbank, also saw an immediate impact on supply as the public stocked up on the many essential items such as rice, pasta, pasta sauce, tinned food and toiletries, that are always of the highest demand with the thousands of food relief charities they support.
“To assist our food relief partners without disrupting our stores during a period of increased product demand, we provided additional financial support to help them with their operating costs, then set up parallel supply chains, often purchasing food directly from our suppliers to donate directly to our partners.
“This operation ran from late March through to the end of June, with over $8 million of funds injected and many new and agile business solutions in place to support such needs in the future,” said Tracey.