Since opening its location across from Citizen Potawatomi Nation headquarters in 2001, FireLake Discount Foods has expanded, providing access to fresh groceries at two more locations in Tecumseh and McLoud. In each community served, FireLake partners with local nonprofits, youth programs and more, giving volunteer hours as well as supporting initiatives like Receipts for School and the coupon book program.
“Educators are the backbone of who we are,” said FireLake Foods Marketing Manager Nicole Sanchez. “They are our customers, and it is our way of giving back to the community, to them. If anytime is more apparent than now, we must work together because we’re all in this together.”
As COVID-19 makes its impact across the United States, FireLake Foods remains dedicated to the communities and individuals it serves.
“You all are a lifesaver,” said Shawnee Salvation Army Captain Stacey Connelly. “We would not be able to keep our doors open and our lights on if it weren’t for CPN.”
FireLake Foods has partnerships with numerous area nonprofits, including The Salvation Army. One easy way that FireLake supports the community is through giving away unwanted groceries to supplement the organization’s food bank.
“We never have to purchase food. It’s all donated from FireLake and donations from people in the community. But I would say 90 percent of our food pantry comes from FireLake donations,” Connelly said.
Every month, FireLake employees spend a few hours preparing The Salvation Army’s daily meal. And during the holidays, team members give their time in a variety of ways, including helping provide 350 boxes filled with holiday favorites and essentials like ham, bread and milk.
According to Connelly, the nonprofit’s annual spaghetti fundraising event would not happen without the Nation.
“That is one of the biggest ways that FireLake helps us, knowing that we don’t have that upfront cost so that all that money goes straight into programs,” she said.
Even when faced with a global pandemic, FireLake Foods continues to give back. Salvation Army worked with staff to purchase water bottles at cost, which helps the organization to continue to provide meals to those in need.
“We never stopped our feeding program. We just had to adapt to it, and so we weren’t able to let people into the building for tea. Bottled water was the best option. But having to purchase at cost would be costly, but thanks to FireLake, it has been minimal,” Connelly said.
She estimated FireLake’s in-kind food donations to exceed $100,000 annually.
“We would not be able to survive if it wasn’t for CPN,” Connelly said.
In addition to nonprofits, FireLake Foods also employs efforts to assist area schools.
The Receipts for School program is a key way FireLake supports education, and contributing is as easy as saving receipts after shopping at any three FireLake Foods locations.
“Each school is set up differently, so contact your local school for more information on where to donate your receipts,” Sanchez said.
Once the receipts add up to $10,000, the school can exchange them at FireLake Discount Foods for a $100 gift card to Copelin’s Office Center, Staples or FireLake.
“This program has been very helpful. A lot of teachers utilize this to help supplement things in their classroom,” she said.
Receipts for Schools is open to any educator, in the surrounding area. For more information, visit firelakefoods.com/donation-requests.
Local organizations, ball teams and nonprofits rely on community financial support to operate, and FireLake Discount Foods offers solutions through its coupon book program.
“Any group can participate in this program, and we offer it twice a year,” Sanchez explained.
The books sell for $10 apiece and include 25 different incentives and opportunities to save across CPN-owned enterprises, with no fundraising overhead.
“It’s 100 percent profit, and there is no cost to the group participating.” Sanchez said.
For more information on the coupon program, email email@example.com.
While FireLake Discount Foods has specific programs in place, staff also step up to the plate in other ways, whether that includes finding quality, affordable earbuds for a classroom or working with local nonprofits to find solutions.
“It’s been amazing to be the boots on the ground to help facilitate and foster relationships that allow others to help local teachers meet the needs in their classrooms.” Sanchez said.
FireLake Discount Foods staff also visit schools and classrooms to read to students as well as discuss healthy living and how grocery stores operate.
In late 2019, Sanchez volunteered at the St. Paul United Methodist Church’s Early Foundation program in downtown Shawnee, teaching its students about FireLake Foods and the importance of eating a balanced diet.
“I had story time and a hands-on activity with the kids. We made Blue Zones-friendly fruit pizzas, and I spoke about the different colors, shapes and fruit; the kids and teachers loved it! ” Sanchez said.
Based on cultures across the world with the longest life expectancies, The Blue Zones Project seeks to improve the overall well-being across Pottawatomie County. The Nation and FireLake Discount Foods partner with Blue Zones as approved worksites and grocery stores.
St. Paul’s also created a miniature grocery store fit with FireLake Discount Foods’ bags as a tool to teach through play. With a degree in education, Sanchez appreciates every opportunity she has to represent CPN in the classroom.
“It’s another little way that we can give back, and literacy, that’s a really an important thing to me,” she said.
For more information on how to participate in FireLake Discount Foods Receipts for School or the coupon book program, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit firelakefoods.com/donation-requests.