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By MARC LUTZ
Business Journal Editor
STOCKTON — To say Bobby McGhee and his wife Ronica are committed to their community is an understatement.
Since purchasing the Stockton Grocery Outlet at 1060 N. Wilson Way in November of last year, the duo not only updated the store and its surroundings, but they’ve raised funds and food donations to benefit Stockton’s Emergency Food Bank.
“Stockton to me is ripe. There’s a lot of opportunity here,” said Bobby McGhee. “It’s challenging, but there’s also that element of ‘everybody needs food,’ … I love it. It’s been good to us so far.”
The McGhee’s and their 27 employees raised over $7,000 in poundage of food (around two tons) and $3,500 in cash.
Independence From Hunger is a campaign each Grocery Outlet location participates in, with the ability to donate to whatever charity they want.
“We wanted to keep it here in the community, so we went to the Stockton Emergency Food Bank. They’re really involved in the community and making sure people have food,” McGhee said.
“We are very grateful for their generosity and support. The Emergency Food Bank Stockton/San Joaquin relies heavily on local support,” said Mike Donaghy, Executive Director for the Stockton/San Joaquin Emergency Food Bank. “Only 29 percent of our funding comes from grants. Seventy-one percent come from the community, business, local foundations and individuals. Without the support of the McGhees and others like them our Organization would be unable to meet our mission.”
The Emergency Food Bank partners with 50 to 60 different businesses throughout the region each year. Every donation makes it possible for the organization to rely on minimal city, county and federal funding.
“The need is large and grows annually,” Donaghy said. “Despite the improved economy, wages remain low in our area for many residents. Whole prices seem to rise constantly. The working poor, seniors, veterans and families continue to need help to put nutritious healthy food on the table.”
Donaghy said last year the Emergency Food Bank distributed over 6 million pounds of food, including 1.5 million pounds of fresh produce. “We are always in need of fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said. “Local farmer, packers, and distributors are very generous to the EFB but they can only help when crops are in production.”
McGhee said his store is working to attract customers from further away than the immediate area. Residents that come to their store are somewhat used to seeing homeless people and blighted storefronts, but McGhee, other businesses and the city are working to change that.
“One of the challenges we had here was fighting the homeless camps out front,” McGhee said. “It was negative at first. We wanted to do something where we helped them have some structure.”
When they first took over Grocery Outlet, McGhee said they had 21 homeless camps around the property. Now there are just a few on the west side of the property where McGhee doesn’t have much control.
The couple continues to work to the betterment of the outside of the store and the inside, retaining customers after attracting them to shop there.
People are surprised when they come inside, McGhee said, because of the look of the store and pricing.
A large portion of goods are bought for Grocery Outlet “opportunistically,” meaning that if a brand is changing its look and has surplus or has an overrun, retailers can purchase those products for far less, passing the savings on to consumers.
What was once known as the “dented can” store, now focuses on name brands at lower prices. The McGhees, who both have extensive retail backgrounds, hadn’t been in a Grocery Outlet for some time, due to its perception.
How the chain has revamped its look and product policy is what made the McGhees consider becoming owners of their own location. And now they work to let the public know what the store offers.
“It’s an educational piece for us, getting people to know and understand that we’re not that dented can store (anymore),” McGhee said. Grocery Outlet also offers fresh produce, meat and dairy goods.
Still, what it comes back to is taking care of the community.
“A lot of people wouldn’t bet on Stockton’s folks being the most generous, and it’s pretty cool because a lot of the people donating (to the food drive) were middle-of-the-road folks,” McGhee said. “Maybe at some time in their lives, they needed (those services), and it was really cool to see them pull together.”
The McGhees’ store was No. 1 out of 27 locations for the amount raised in Independents for Hunger.
“Our goal for next year is to go over $12,000 in food and cash,” McGhee said. “And I think we will.”