REEDLEY – Local, family-owned agricultural service GAR Bennett has helped raise millions for the Central California Food Bank in the last 10 years, providing countless meals to Central Valley families.
The 10th annual Feeding Families Fund Drive for the Central California Food Bank (CCFD) kicked off at the end of August. Started by Karen Musson and Greg Musson of GAR Bennett, the drive lasts throughout September and features an in-person donation event sponsored by Fresno-based radio station KMJ on Sept. 22.
“This is our largest fundraiser of the entire year,” CCFD co-CEO Kym Dildine said. “It really generates a lot of excitement and support and it helps carry us through (the year).”
Dildine said the fund drive has raised over $3.7 million since it began; last year alone the single-day radio drive brought in more than $600,000. As part of the drive, GAR Bennett matches 50% of all donations, meaning a donation of $1 becomes $1.50, a donation of $25 becomes $50 and so on.
When the Mussons first came to the food bank with the hope of sponsoring a donation-matching drive, Dildine said they had a goal of $30,000 — $20,000 from donations and $10,000 from matching — that they felt was “pretty ambitious.” They slightly surpassed $30,000 that year, and the drive has continued to grow year after year.
“We started this because people were struggling with food insecurity, and we wanted to help valley families,” Christina Musson, KMJ radio host, lead marketer for the drive and a third-generation family member of GAR Bennett said. “We just wouldn’t have even thought we could get close to raising over a half million dollars. It’s really incredible that it’s just grown over the last 10 years.”
For the month of September, anyone can donate to the fund drive online through the food bank website. Then, on Sept. 22, KMJ will host a big fundraising push from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. as they broadcast live from The Market grocery store in Fresno. That’s when the drive gets the most donations, Musson said, as radio listeners will stop by to donate in person or will head online to donate after they learn about the drive.
Musson said KMJ hosts do live reporting and interviewing from The Market on that day and spend a lot of time promoting the drive. She said the radio station is a major factor in the drive’s yearly success because it has its own stream of donors.
Dildine said that the leadership matching from GAR Bennett has helped bring in other partners to the drive, including Amazon and Farm Credit.
The level of generosity and philanthropy Dildine has seen from GAR Bennett through this drive is unique, Dildine said. GAR Bennett has “lended their good name in the community” to help the food bank raise more funds, and she said the drive’s intention is to gain new donors and inspire those who have given to the campaign in the past to give more.
CCFD works with its partners to provide food distributions across Fresno, Madera, Kings, Kern and Tulare counties that anyone in the community can benefit from. Dildine said the funds raised are primarily used to feed communities in rural areas and hard-to-reach places where even general food access is sparse.
“(Inflation) is shoving more families and households with tight budgets into our lines, so providing access where it’s needed the most is really important, and this fund drive helps us do that,” Dildine said.
The online fundraising portal lists an online donation goal of $50,000, but Musson said they don’t really set a hard goal each year.
“We’re happy to receive whatever,” Musson said. “We always tell everybody no donation is too big or too small. If a dollar is what you can give, the food bank can do so much with that one dollar.”
According to CCFD, a $1 donation can provide up to four meals for someone in need. This is because of the community relationships and buying power the food bank has that allows them to stretch out their funding for a larger output.
“At the end of the day, this is about getting food to food insecure families all across the Central Valley,” Musson said.
Online donations and mail-in donations can be made through the end of September. For mailed donations, donors should write “GAR Bennett match” on their checks. In-person donations will only be accepted from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 22. GAR Bennett customers can also make a donation through their GAR Bennett account by calling 800-696-6108.