Stepping up to the Plate to Drive Out Hunger

Cheesecake Factory Pushes Companies to Take Leadership on CSR

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Mark Mears
Mark Mears
In September, the Cheesecake Factory set out on a monthlong Drive Out Hunger Tour across the country to benefit Feeding America. But the tour was part of a bigger push. Mark Mears of the Cheesecake Factory explains.

It's time we took a stand -- you, me and corporate America. It's time to stand for something bigger than quarterly earnings reports, P&L statements or government bailouts. America needs leadership now more than ever to help address and resolve some important challenges that face too many of us in this country.

While there are certainly many worthwhile social causes, I can think of none more important or more intrinsic to the fundamental dignity of human life in a civilized society than the issue of hunger in America -- that's right, in America. Right here within our borders, more than 36 million people -- many of whom are children or senior citizens living on a fixed income -- are considered food insecure, which means they don't always know where their next meal will come from. That's an astounding one in eight Americans -- truly a shame for a country that has so much.

In fact, we have been challenged by Frances Moore Lappe, the noted and influential author who has written several books on the subject of hunger, when she said, "The tragedy of hunger amidst plenty will only be averted if people -- like you and me -- decide to act."

Regardless of where we grew up or our sociopolitical ideologies, we share one key characteristic: our "human-ness." Unfortunately, given the economic realities we face, many corporate social responsibility programs are being placed on the chopping block, if they've not already been lost in favor of reinvesting what's left of limited budgets into short-term sales-building programs, or merely flowing those dollars directly to the bottom line.

At the Cheesecake Factory, we are known for our generous portion sizes. In fact, more than 72 million guests dine at the Cheesecake Factory each year. However, the sobering fact is there are many Americans in our own communities who lack the means to enjoy this kind of privilege. And while Feeding America, Share Our Strength and other national and local charities continue to do amazing work in this area, there is still a very sizable gap. Given the continued sluggishness of our economy, laboring under a staggering loss of both jobs and homes, demand for assistance has risen an astounding 30%. Unfortunately, this gap will likely continue to widen unless we all do something to help.

We partnered with Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief charity, to develop an integrated, multifaceted program to involve each of our four key constituencies: our guests, our staff members, our shareholders and, of course, our communities.

Beginning Sept. 1, the Cheesecake Factory embarked on the monthlong coast-to-coast Drive Out Hunger Tour. Cheesecake lovers who visited our tour stops received a complimentary slice of Stefanie's Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake when they brought cans of soup to donate to local food banks. The tour stopped in 30 cities in 30 days, kicking off in Los Angeles on Sept. 1 and finishing in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30. Additionally, on Sept. 30, the You Dine, We'll Donate event invited guests at all 146 Cheesecake Factory locations to bring in two cans of soup in exchange for 10% of their check donated to local food banks.

Our original goal was to collect 100,000 cans of soup throughout the tour. I am very pleased to report we apparently didn't aim high enough as this goal was exceeded by more than three times that amount with a grand total of 321,992 cans of soup donated to local food banks across the U.S.

The photo mosaic is made up of individual photos of those who attended the events.
The photo mosaic is made up of individual photos of those who attended the events.
In honor of those who participated in the Drive Out Hunger Tour, a world record-size sculpture made with 30,000 cans of soup generously donated by Campbell Soup Co. and constructed in the shape of a slice of Stefanie's Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake was unveiled at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington on Oct. 1. Furthermore, to acknowledge everyone who donated cans of soup at a tour event, a special photo mosaic, also in the shape of Stefanie's Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake, was created on the tour Web site. The photo mosaic is made up of individual photos of those who attended the events, symbolizing that they are part of the "big picture" in the fight against hunger.

From California, to Washington, and every stop in between, we saw Americans – young, old and of all ethnicities -- coming together in support. There were scout troops; church groups; elementary, middle- and high-school students; and thousands of our own staff members, all rallying to support this cause. We were touched to see the enthusiasm for combating hunger in America by the Cheesecake Factory guests and staff members nationwide who donated those cans of soup in order to make a difference.

So it was only fitting that a former Cheesecake Factory staff member -- Tamar Kaprelian, who is now a budding musical talent performing on the Interscope label -- lent us one of her songs to serve as the anthem for our Drive Out Hunger Tour. How appropriate is the title of that song: "New Day." Indeed it is.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Mears is senior VP-chief marketing officer of the Cheesecake Factory.