By Sharon Poland, director of business development at Hartman Simons

Bank of North Georgia collected enough peanut butter and jelly to make 63,978 sandwiches for children living in metro Atlanta — and built plenty of goodwill along the way. In this unique annual food drive, affectionately called “Spread the Love”, the bank coordinates with its 41 branches in 16 metro Atlanta counties, as well as local schools. This year, the bank was able to give four tons of peanut butter and jelly to 31 local food pantries.

Spread the Love Logo Earlier this year I read about the bank’s annual food drive, and since Bank of North Georgia is a Hartman Simons partner (the bank is a client of Hartman Simons, and Hartman Simons is also a client of the bank), I called communications manager Lauren Muzzy to see how we could get involved. We ultimately held a Jeans Day, raising $295, which the bank used to buy a grocery cart full of peanut butter and jelly.

We are just one piece in a complex PB&J endeavor that includes the bank’s branches, school partners, the media, food pantries and many generous people. I recently sat down with Lauren to ask for best practices. Hopefully, if your company is considering launching or expanding a program to help the community, her tips will be useful:

Make it meaningful. Do your homework first to identify a community need that can be addressed successfully while enhancing your image as a community-focused company. “The challenging economy over the past few years has caused more and more families to reach out to local food pantries for assistance and we felt compelled to take action. Our team has a genuine soft-spot for kids and we want to be sure they have the nutritious food they need to get through the day energized and excited to learn. As a result, we chose to focus our efforts on a staple lunchtime classic – peanut butter and jelly.”

Make it memorable and fun. To make the theme stick (pun intended), the bank’s team created fun metrics, such as the sandwich count, and launched the food drive on National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day (April 2). Internally, they held a contest in which employees could guess the number of jars that would eventually be collected and the total weight in pounds. “Everyone loves PB&J,” Lauren said. “This is a simple, fun concept that also helps tens of thousands of children get the nutrition they need.”

Keep it local, which helps generate media attention. It would have been easier to donate everything to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, but it was more meaningful to engage with food pantries in every community where Bank of North Georgia operates. “This local approach also helps us generate media attention, as all the community newspapers want to keep their news as local as possible, ” Lauren said.

Get buy-in from the top down. If the bank’s leaders did not believe in the value, it would not work. “It’s critical to have everyone in the organization engaged and committed to seeing us succeed with this community relations initiative,” she said.

Add new elements each year to keep it fresh and keep it growing. Bank of North Georgia started the drive four years ago. In 2010, the first school participated and in 2011, a total of 17 schools joined in. “With the assistance of the schools and our business partner Hartman Simons, we were able to collect 42 percent more peanut butter and jelly this year and we have also brought fresh energy to the drive,” said Lauren.

Bank of North Georgia has received a great deal of positive attention for the drive, which is good for the bank’s image as the bank currently serves as one of the five top banking institutions in metro Atlanta.  “We love all of the press we receive, but our ultimate goal is to inspire other companies to follow suit and coordinate their own food drives. It takes the work of many to feed those most in need in our local communities. If every company would step up to host a drive for one or two weeks each year, the food pantries would be better equipped to meet the growing need for food in our area,” Lauren explained. 

Mt. Bethel Elementary School

Left: The students at Mt. Bethel Elementary School in Marietta collected the second highest number of PB&J jars at 550. 

 

East Coweta High School

 

 

 

 

Left: The students at East Coweta High School (Followers of Christ Club) contributed 161 of the 1,010 jars contributed to the Coweta Community Food Pantry in Newnan, Georgia. This food pantry received the second largest number of jars during our campaign.