Dennis Pittman is the senior director of hunger relief for Smithfield Foods, the world's largest hog producer and pork processor. In this role, he leads the company's hunger relief efforts, including Helping Hungry Homes®, an initiative to fight hunger and help Americans become more food secure. Established in 2008, Helping Hungry Homes provides high-quality, nutritious protein to food banks across the country and raises awareness of hunger. To date, the initiative has provided more than 49 million servings of protein to food banks located from coast-to-coast.
CR Magazine recently spoke with Pittman about Smithfield's philanthropic initiatives.
CR Magazine: How does Smithfield Foods’ Helping Hungry Homes initiative strive to address the issue of hunger and food insecurity in the United States?
Dennis Pittman: At Smithfield Foods, it’s our business to feed people. We value our responsibility as a global food company to address hunger and improve food security. Each year, Helping Hungry Homes launches a nationwide food donation tour, giving millions of pounds of protein to communities across the country. Along the way, we partner with local retailers, civic leaders and other stakeholders who share our passion to fight for additional support and generate greater awareness of hunger at the local level.
This year, we launched a new, interactive website to engage our employees, retailers, and others in the Helping Hungry Homes initiative. The website, www.helpinghungryhomes.com, provides information about where the tour has recently visited, where it’s going next and the impact we’ve made on our communities across the nation.
CR: What have been food banks’ responses to this initiative?
DP: Protein is a much-needed and often difficult to acquire resource. It’s a staple for a nutritious, balanced meal. It can also be one of the costlier parts of a meal. The food banks have shared with us that for this reason, our protein donations make a significant impact on these communities.
The food banks that we have worked with have also shared that they are grateful for our role in raising awareness of food insecurity. With each donation, Helping Hungry Homes engages local stakeholders during a media event, allowing news outlets to spread information about hunger at the local level. These events encourage the community to get involved by donating to or volunteering with their local food bank.
CR: Helping Hungry Homes has grown from a brand-led to a company-wide initiative. How has this growth better positioned the program to achieve its mission?
DP: When Helping Hungry Homes was launched in 2008, it was led by the Smithfield brand. Over the years, the initiative has expanded significantly. This year, it has grown into a company-wide program and will donate protein to local food banks throughout the nation. Now, Smithfield Foods’ entire family of brands including Smithfield, Eckrich and Nathan's Famous, and its more than 40,000 employees in more than 40 locations across the country are part of this signature philanthropic endeavor.
CR: Why is this initiative important to Smithfield Foods?
DP: According to the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly 42 million Americans are food insecure. This means that one in eight people in our country do not know where their next meal will come from. At Smithfield Foods, we understand the benefits of proper nutrition and believe it is our responsibility to help our neighbors in need.
Through Helping Hungry Homes, we are able to do our part to help provide countless families with proper nutrition they need. By helping meet this need, we are able to play a role in strengthening the local communities, in which we do business and where our employees live and work.
CR: In 2017, this initiative will visit cities with Smithfield Foods locations. Why was this an important factor to consider for Smithfield Foods?
DP: Our employees share a passion to feed people and serve their communities. With this in mind, we’re putting an even greater focus on the communities that we call home. In 2017, Helping Hungry Homes donation stops will visit cities where Smithfield Foods has a facility, farm or office. By targeting these areas, we are able to give back to the communities in which our employees live and work, while further engaging our people in the fight against hunger. When Helping Hungry Homes® visits an area, employees are encouraged to host employee-led food drives of non-perishable items, attend the donation event and seek volunteer opportunities with their local food bank.
CR: How does it feel to be leading by example in corporate giving?
DP: At Smithfield Foods, we understand that our people are our greatest asset and the vitality of their communities are a priority. Smithfield Foods could not constantly improve or expand our corporate giving programs without the help of our employees who share our passion for feeding people. Through programs like Helping Hungry Homes, we are able to give back to our neighbors and communities across the country. While we have accomplished a great deal in our fight against hunger, we know there is still much to do. We hope our work continues to inspire others to join our fight in addressing hunger and improving food security.
CR: How would Smithfield Foods recommend other companies look at improving their giving processes?
DP: A successful giving program requires support from every level of the company, starting at the top. Kenneth Sullivan, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods, is a visionary leader committed to improving food security and addressing hunger while fulfilling our mission to produce good food the right way. This is important because all philanthropic efforts should align with a company’s mission. Our giving endeavors, part of efforts to support the communities where our employees live and work, are part of a core pillar of our sustainability program.
Along with Helping Communities, our sustainability efforts focus on animal care, environment, food safety and quality and our people. Speaking of our people, the success of Helping Hungry Homes would not be possible without our passionate employees. The Smithfield Foods family is a driving force behind this program. At each donation stop, our employees and retailers are encouraged to take an active role in the fight against hunger. Together, we are proud to be making a significant impact on the fight against hunger.