The Omni Grove Park Inn tackles food insecurity in WNC

May 1, 2019

The Omni Grove Park Inn is hard at work tackling the challenges of food insecurity in our region. The hospitality company, which has been a community touchstone since 1913, employs a comprehensive strategy to feed the community and conserve existing resources at every step of the way.

“We work in the hospitality business because we want to take care of people,” says Tracey Johnston-Crum, Director of Community Outreach and Public Relations. “We’re not only wanting to welcome our guests from out of town, we also want to practice stewardship within our community, for the land we live on and for the people we share our roads with.”

The jumping off point? The hefty amount of cuisine the hotel already produces. Since the typical person visiting the resort is on a “vacation diet,” explains Johnston-Crum, chefs always make more than enough food for the buffets and other events that often go untouched by diners. To avoid wasting these meals, the Omni Grove Park Inn (GPI) struck up a partnership with Flori Pate at Food Connection, a nonprofit that picks up surplus prepared meals and delivers it to shelters.

“They do such beautiful job. We’re happy to be participatory,” says Johnston-Crum. “But that’s just one piece of the puzzle.”

For every room booked online, GPI makes a donation to MANNA FoodBank through its Say Goodnight to Hunger program, which helps provide one meal for every completed stay. Since launching the program in 2016, Johnston-Crum is proud to say that they’ve been able to donate $39,435 to the hunger relief organization. 

GPI’s contribution to this program is just one element of its commitment to feeding families and reducing hunger nationwide. On a regular basis, groups of volunteers visit MANNA and help with sorting donated product, repackaging bulk food items, or putting together weekly MANNA packs. Through its annual holiday parking partnership, GPI has also contributed over $430,000 to  local-not-for-profit partners.

Another piece of the puzzle, Johnston-Crum says, is local agriculture. In its efforts to support area farmers, GPI sources many of its ingredients directly from nearby farms, purchasing more than a quarter of the Barnardsville-based Ivy Creek Family Farm’s produce. “It’s a wonderful relationship because the owners Paul and Anna don’t have to sweat so much about showing up at every market to make sales and we get to cook with local, high-quality ingredients,” says Johnston-Crum.

And because GPI is fully aware of the way food insecurity can impact anyone for a number of reasons,the resort also provides access to a healthy and uber-affordable meal service for its nearly 1,000 employees. For $1.25, all employees can get unlimited soup, salad and beverages, and for $2.50 they have access to an entire hot bar of food.

“I’ve seen the impact of food insecurity in our workplace, in situations when fellow employees face unexpected medical bills or due to unforeseen circumstances must become the sole breadwinner for their family,” Johnston-Crum explains. “Our hope is we can fulfill a major food need for our employees.”

“At the end of the day what matters, is what are we doing in town? How are we connecting? For me, that’s the most important thing.”