This article first appeared in The Australian newspaper on Monday 29 March 2021.

Australia produces more food than it consumes but when the pandemic hit communities last year, many Australians became focused on stockpiling groceries to see them through the lockdowns.

Our big supermarkets came under pressure to supply essentials and ensure shoppers — especially older or vulnerable shoppers — had safe access to stores.

For Coles, the coronavirus was a time to step up. CEO Steve Cain said: “Since the COVID pandemic began, Coles has proudly embraced our role as an essential service to the community, guided by our purpose to sustainably feed all Australians and help them lead healthier and happier lives. Throughout every challenge, our values of working with passion, pace and responsibility to the community were at the heart of our decision-making.”

The company’s work has won it a place on the shortlist for the Business Council of Australia’s awards, The Biggies, which recognise people and companies that made a significant contribution to civic life last year. Coles is one of seven finalists in the Big Impact category. There are four individual finalists in the Big Heart category.

From mid-March last year, Coles began donating extra food and groceries to a retail value of $1m a week to food banks to help Australians facing hardship as a result of the coronavirus. Food relief organisations in turn distributed the food to up to 3800 community food programs across Australia.

For RedKite, a charity for families facing childhood cancer, Coles’ Online Priority Service allowed people with fragile immune systems to get food.

“When COVID-19 hit, it put Australia’s most vulnerable into immediate isolation,” RedKite general manager of fundraising Tatiana Isaacs said.

“It was Coles’ Online Priority Service that immediately came to the rescue. Families facing childhood cancer received instant access to online priority shopping and contactless delivery so they could get the supplies they needed and kept their immunocompromised child safe.”

The not-for-profit food distributor, Second Bite, also saw benefits from Coles’ generosity, and was able to support extra essential food donations to their centres.

“Coles immediately came to the support of SecondBite, providing essential food donations from its distribution centres, building on the surplus produce we collect from about 800 supermarkets nationwide,” SecondBite CEO Jim Mullan said. “This support enabled us to keep up with the increasing number of people in need.”

As well as direct donations, Coles also reacted quickly to ensure that food supplies were distributed fairly across its stores, and it introduced a “community hour” so that shoppers who needed special assistance were given priority.

That initiative was launched towards the end of March to provide vulnerable and elderly members of the community with a safer shopping experience and improve access to stores to purchase groceries. It was later extended to healthcare and emergency services workers on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Last Easter, when Australians were still struggling with the challenges of the pandemic, Coles gave essential workers a treat.

Social distancing rules were still restricting celebrations, so Coles donated more than 8000 packets of Easter eggs to medical staff at hospitals across Australia as a small gesture of thanks for their service.

The treats were hand-delivered to hospitals including Monash Children’s Hospital, Sydney Children’s Hospital and Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital.

In July, when the public housing towers in inner Melbourne were placed in mandatory lockdown, Coles temporarily closed and repurposed a supermarket in Waterfield Street, Coburg, as a pop-up fulfilment centre specifically for the towers.

The company’s staff packed 1000 boxes with donations of fresh foods for residents.

To learn more about The Biggies and see the finalists visit: www.thebiggies.com.au

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