By Darby Underwood
Southeastern Grocers Community Connections
West Florida and West Central Florida
The nation’s first grocery store within a food bank began as an idea to help clean up a West Central Florida food bank’s distribution system. It became reality this summer as the ribbon was cut on a Winn-Dixie that’s like no other grocery store.
The new store concept was the brainchild of Thomas Mantz, executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay. Winn-Dixie leadership played a critical role in making his dream of a more efficient, cleaner shopping experience become reality.
“Those who work in the grocery industry and volunteer at food banks share a common passion—to provide people with food,” said Mantz. “Winn-Dixie has been a great community partner for Feeding Tampa Bay, so we conceptualized a model with Winn-Dixie in mind. Grocery stores are set up to create the most effective stocking, shopping and food safety processes and we simply wanted to find a way to replicate that.”
Feeding Tampa Bay has a network of more than 600 faith-based and nonprofit hunger-relief organizations that rely on the food bank. Food is donated from local growers, manufacturers, supermarkets and organized food drives that are then distributed by the food bank’s partner agencies to more than 700,000 people in West and Central Florida.
Mantz’s solution to streamline Feeding Tampa Bay’s distribution center became a reality in just over 45 days. Winn-Dixie created a grocery store complete with coolers, freezers, new entry and exit doors, new flooring and shelving. Numbered in recognition of the year the food bank was founded, Winn-Dixie Charity Market store No. 1982 was born.
“It was a proud moment for me to see our Winn-Dixie name lit up on the front of this store inside the food bank,” said Joey Medina, West Florida regional vice president. “While I’m most excited about the opportunity to help those in need, I do take pride in knowing that all of the donation recipients see our store when they enter the Feeding Tampa Bay facility.”
Medina recognized Central Florida Regional Vice President and Feeding Tampa Bay Board Member Eddie Garcia for his role in positioning Winn-Dixie for the opportunity, as well as District Maintenance Manager Mike Campbell for his work in coordinating the project.
“When you spend 37 years living and working in grocery stores in the Tampa Bay area, you have a close connection to the community,” said Garcia. “I've always felt if you sell groceries, you should be aware of those less fortunate. Being a part of Feeding Tampa Bay has been a humbling, yet very fulfilling experience. I'm proud we were able to support our community.”
The efforts of Winn-Dixie to construct the Winn-Dixie Charity Market will help Feeding Tampa Bay distribute nearly 85,000 meals each week to the food bank’s hunger-relief partners.
“When we provide children food, they’re able to participate in school and become educated; we know when we provide seniors food, they stay out of doctors’ offices and hospitals; we know when we provide families food, they are able to manage the family budget. As a result, we have a happier, better and more successful community,” said Mantz.
The Winn-Dixie Charity Market is modeled after a traditional grocery store. Although significantly smaller at only 2,500 square feet, it provides a cleaner, more efficient means for hunger-relief agencies to get what they need.
Winn-Dixie Regional Vice Presidents Eddie Garcia (left) and Joey Medina (center) high-five under the newly unveiled Winn-Dixie Charity Market sign at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Feeding Tampa Board Chairman Richard Blau is at right.