Peanut industry unites for Haiti relief

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- One donation of $5,000 and a challenge to match it has led to more than $75,000 of relief funds and five truckloads of peanut butter being delivered to Haiti from the peanut industry.

The project began when Blakely native and Early County Executive Director Barton Rice walked into the office of Early County 2055, a nonprofit economic development organization in Blakely, and suggested that the organization send peanut butter to Haiti, said Lisa Collins, the director of economic development for Early County 2055.

"He pledged a $5,000 donation to get the project started," she said. "Then we started contacting the peanut industry and asked if they wanted to pitch in."

Sally Wells, logistics manager for the southeast division of Birdsong Peanut Co., was one of the first people Collins contacted.

"We had all the contacts for the peanut industry," she said. "So we decided to start calling and sending out e-mails and challenging the peanut industry to start matching donations."

Collins said donations have ranged from as large as $10,000 to individuals contributing $20.

"It all counts, and it's all going to a good cause," she said.

Wells said the overwhelming response from fellow peanut industry groups got the project rolling.

"We had enough money to buy the peanut butter by then," she said. "Tara Foods in Albany has been wonderful, and we're ready to get the peanut butter we need."

While Wells was working on getting peanut butter, Birdsong President Jeff Johnson said there was no way to get it to Haiti.

"Thankfully, Sally was able to get in contact with Southern Ag Carriers, which agreed to transport the peanut butter wherever we wanted," he said.

Soon other companies were pledging to provide transportation for the donations, including a Department of Defense ship in Norfolk, Va., near Birdsong's headquarters.

Wells said the next problem was how to get the peanut butter into the hands of the Haitian people who needed it.

"We wanted to make sure the peanut butter was not just going to sit in a warehouse," she said. "We started researching charities to distribute it for us."

Wells said she made several calls to numerous charities.

"They were usually a little apprehensive when I said we wanted to make an 'in-kind' donation," she said. "Usually charities are requesting monetary donations, but when I said peanut butter they said yes."

Wells said it is mind-boggling how quickly things fell into place.

"This started last week, and I can't believe we were able to line things up over a weekend and a holiday," she said.

Johnson said the large amount of peanut butter delivered to Haiti will equal well over a million servings.

"I think it's saving lives," he said of the pantry staple. "We already know peanut butter works for malnourished people because of the nutritional value."

Johnson said peanut butter is also a good food product for Haiti because of its long shelf life and easy portability.

"You don't have to refrigerate it, you don't have to add water and it has a shelf life of 18 months," he said. "After a year has gone by and many may have forgotten about the disaster, that peanut butter will still be good."

Wells said donations continue to flood in, and the peanut industry has steadily provided support.

"As long as we keep receiving donations, we will continue to send peanut butter until they (charities) request us to stop," she said.

Thus far the group is obtaining the peanut butter from Tara Foods of Albany; ConAgra, headquartered in Omaha, Neb.; and J.M. Smucker Company, headquartered in Orrville, Ohio. Two of the four containers from Smucker and Tara Foods are being transported to Haiti on a Department of Defense ship, Military Sealift Command, in Norfolk, Va., and are scheduled to arrive today. Two other containers of peanut butter will be distributed to Haiti through Food for the Poor of Coconut Creek, Fla., and the Catholic Relief Service of Baltimore, two nonprofits with a long-standing presence in Haiti.

Organizations and individuals who have pledged support include:

Early County 2055, The National Peanut Board, American Peanut Shellers Assn., McCleskey Mills, Equity Estates Fund LLC, Arthur Sandlin, Birdsong Peanuts, Golden Peanut Company, Jim Moore, Jack Wynn, Marie Fenn, The National Peanut Buying Points Assn., Marie Pyle, Charles Birdsong, Bruce Kotz, Southern Ag Carriers, Richard Barnoski, John Kopec, Sally Wells, John Gray, Gerald Garland, The Georgia Peanut Commission, The Alabama Peanut Producers Assn., Texas Peanut Producers Board, North Carolina Peanut Grower Assn., South Carolina Peanut Board, Dell Cotton/Virginia Peanut Growers Co-op, Mac Birdsong, BAG Corporation, JLA Leek Labs, Universal Blanchers and Peanut Proud Inc.

Those wishing to donate funds to keep the peanut butter going to Haiti are asked to send deductible contributions to EC 2055 -- PNB for Haiti, P.O. Box 725, Blakely, Ga. 39823. Make checks payable to "Early County 2055" and note "pnb for Haiti." For information, contact Lisa Collins at EC 2055, lcollins@earlycounty2055.com or Sally Tabb Wells at stabb@birdsong-peanuts.com.