A group of Priceline employees and members of senior management walked from their office on Connecticut Avenue last Friday to Costco across the street where they went on a major shopping spree.
They navigated the aisles, loading carriages and hand carts with frozen turkeys, boxes of stuffing, canned vegetables, Bisquick, maple syrup and a host of other non-perishable items that added up to one hefty grocery bill. When the last of the foodstuffs was scanned and cashier Coley Gregoire totaled the order the price tag for the Priceline Annual Thanksgiving Food Bank Drive came to $40,346.
For the seventh consecutive year many employees of Priceline donated money for the groceries, which were earmarked for the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County based in Stamford. They raised $20,173, which the company matched, according to Jill Saverine, vice president of compensation for Priceline.
"Every year we do this to raise awareness of the need to contribute to the food bank. The shelves are empty," said Michele Wright, Priceline's senior human resources manager, who is credited with originating the initiative. It began small scale and Wright said that she never envisioned it growing to its current level.
"They blow us away every year," said Kate Lombardo, executive director of the food bank. Lombardo said the Priceline contribution of food this year exceeded eight tons and that does not include the weight of the hundreds of turkeys they donated.
"We know 564 families will have turkeys on their table (this Thanksgiving)," Lombardo said.
The food bank provides food to the Christian Community Action, the Salvation Army, Open Door Shelter, and Malta House in Norwalk, and the Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Stamford, and those agencies distribute the food to those in need.
"There are a lot of people that need, especially at this time with the economy," said Sharon Smalls, an HR assistant for Priceline, one of about 50 employees and managers, including Priceline President Jeff Boyd, who volunteered to do the shopping and load three trucks donated by Avis/Budget Rentals. "I always feel everyone needs help from someone. Today, it's someone else, tomorrow it could be me," Smalls said.
"It feels nice to help people," said Chris Koster, a data center operations engineer for Priceline.
New to the shopping list this year were diapers and baby wipes, Saverine said. "There are many low income parents who can't go to work because they can't afford disposable diapers and day care centers won't accept (infants and toddlers) without them," she said.
Wright said Lombardo cried when she first learned about the Priceline initiative seven years ago.
"I did cry," Lombardo admits. It was a combination of things that contributed to her emotional response, first-hand experience of loss and need, as well as the knowledge of how many families would be helped by Priceline's generosity.
"My family lost their (Brooklyn, N.Y.) home back in the 1960s," Lombardo said, adding that members of a local church brought a basket of food to her family.
"We are hoping that this year's drive will raise awareness for the food bank's annual Thanksgiving effort, especially given that the Food Bank's shelves are suffering from the effects of our current economy," said Lucy Bueti, director of marketing and business development for the rental cars section of priceline.com, who added that some last minute purchases pushed Priceline's final total for the food drive to more than $43,000.
As Christmas approaches, Lombardo said the food bank continues to accept monetary and food donations at its warehouse at 461 Glenbrook Road in Stamford. It is open five days per week for donations.