Multifaceted Food Bank partner is committed to helping Heartland neighbors in need

Photo of Conagra Brands volunteers at Food Bank for the Heartland

Photo: Conagra Brands employees pose for a photo during a recent volunteer shift at the Food Bank.

The Food Bank’s legacy cannot be discussed without including the incredible commitment from Conagra Brands. While the partnership with Omaha’s largest consumer packaged goods company began decades ago, Conagra’s holistic approach to alleviating hunger greatly increased in 2015, thanks to their current leadership team. Since the partnership began in the 1990’s, Conagra has been integral in supporting the Food Bank in a variety of capacities including sponsoring major events and annual campaigns, supporting transportation efforts, and donating food, funds, and volunteer time.

“On my first day with Conagra in 2015, I was told that we are obsessively focused on doing the right things for the communities in which we operate. At the top of that list was Food Bank for the Heartland,” said president and CEO, Sean Connolly. “Long before I started, we had this tremendous partnership. But being able to watch the Food Bank expand meaningfully over the last eight years to support the increased need has been incredible to watch.”

Jon Harris, senior vice president and chief communications officer, echoes that sentiment. “It’s a big part of our culture and a big part of who we are as a company. To see so many employees giving back, even in their spare time, is just wonderful. It underscores the passion of our employees and culture Sean has built.”

Conagra’s culture and commitment to fighting hunger is evident in every aspect of this partnership. In 2022, 420 Conagra employees volunteered with the Food Bank, providing a total of 1,050 hours. Employees share that volunteering has had a profound impact on them:

“Whenever I get asked why I’m still at Conagra, a part of that is volunteering. We want to make sure kids are not food insecure and that’s important to me, having three children of my own,” said Kevin.

“It means the world to have the opportunity to devote time to helping others. We make food every day and to participate in our communities in this way really brings home the importance of the work we do as a company,” said Carey.

“I have two kids of my own. I’ve seen the BackPack Program at work in their schools, and it’s invaluable,” said Jenifer. “I’ve been at Conagra 23 years, and I’ve spent a lot of time at the Food Bank. I’m so proud to work for a company that constantly gives back.”

Robert Rizzo, senior director of community investment at Conagra, has been instrumental in Conagra’s sponsorship of various Food Bank initiatives, including championing the annual “Shine the Light on Hunger” campaign. 2022’s event was the most impactful to date, raising 12.4 million meals and exceeding its goal by 315%. “When two amazing organizations come together and put their best people behind these efforts, you can really see the growth of the campaign, which means more impact.”

Robert shares that Conagra’s relationship with the Food Bank is multi-faceted and consistently reinforced across the organization. “It’s not just through me. It’s through our vice president of human resources, and Food Bank board member, Rick Hansen, who does incredible work. It’s through Byron Hobson and his team, who donates products through our plant in Omaha and our facility in Council Bluffs. It’s through the leadership of Lori Kilgore and our talented culinary team, who use their skills to cook meals for area shelters and assists with Celebrity Chef. It’s a tremendous source of pride to see not only one person’s connection to the Food Bank, but our entire company’s connection.”

Each of these connections have broadened Conagra’s awareness of hunger. “We didn’t know the level of food insecurity until we started working directly with the Food Bank. That’s when we realized just how much help, support, and partnership was needed, even greater than what we had done previously. It’s not just in the urban areas, it’s everywhere. We need to do our part in helping combat this and feed those who need it most,” said Jon.

Conagra leaders agree that choosing one area of focus has allowed them to fully commit to the fight against hunger. “If you spread your resources too thin, you have less impact. When Robert joined, one of his first priorities was picking the area that matters most to us and focusing our resources there,” said Jon. “At that point, fighting hunger became our number one priority and our impact has increased proportionally with that focus.”

The impact of Conagra’s partnership has been felt by every community the Food Bank serves. In 2022, the organization collectively donated more than 251,000 pounds of food, and nearly $350,000. Combined, this incredible support provided more than 1.6 million meals to neighbors in need across Nebraska and Western Iowa.

“We think everyone should have the opportunity to have a happy and joyful life. But if you’re experiencing food insecurity, it’s awfully hard,” said Sean. “If we can do our part in making sure people are fed, and have access to the nutrition they need, we’re guiding them down a more positive path. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to accomplish.”