Specialty food communities around the country are volunteering today to promote hunger relief and food recovery efforts. Share how you embrace hunger relief with the hashtag #EHRD.

By Eva Meszaros

Today is the inaugural Embrace Hunger Relief Day, a day dedicated to recognizing, celebrating, and supporting hunger relief efforts in the U.S. Hunger and food insecurity issues have gained national attention in recent years, so it only makes sense that these issues and the efforts to combat them get their own day.

Behind the event is the Specialty Food Foundation, which supports programs in the realms of hunger relief and food recovery. Established earlier this year by the Specialty Food Association, the foundation has partnered with anti-hunger organizations in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle to organize volunteer events for Embrace Hunger Relief Day. Planned events are taking place at such organizations as the Greater Boston Food Bank and Northwest Harvest in Seattle.

Giving back comes naturally to the specialty food community, as many participants are celebrating Embrace Hunger Relief Day by volunteering through existing partnerships, notes Ron Tanner, vice president of philanthropy, government, and industry relations at the Specialty Food Association.

Seattle Chocolate Company already has a relationship with Northwest Harvest, donating a serving of fresh food for every bar of its Jcoco chocolate purchased, and a team of staff is volunteering there today. "Stomping out hunger where we live is Seattle Chocolate Company’s giving mission," says Kirsty Ellison, vice president of sales and marketing at Seattle Chocolates.

In San Francisco, Clairesquares staffers will be helping to sort and repack donated foods at SF-Marin Food Bank, which delivers goods to more than 450 nonprofit partners providing meals and groceries throughout the city and in neighboring Marin County. Clairesquares operates its own hunger relief events throughout the year, some in partnership with other chocolate producers as part of the Bay Area women chocolatier group Well Tempered SF.

In New York, specialty food producers and Specialty Food Association staff are joining forces at City Harvest, the Specialty Food Association's long-time partner, to repack food donations into family-size portions for community food programs.

Specialty Food FoundationEmbrace Hunger Relief Day is an effort to draw attention to the Specialty Food Foundation, which will award $250,000 in grants this year in support of programs and organizations working to provide relief and solutions for hunger and food insecurity. "It's creating awareness of the problem and how the foundation is going to get members to help alleviate it," says Tanner. The foundation received more than 50 letters of inquiry and is currently reviewing grant proposals. Grant winners will be announced in December.

For some, today is also an opportunity to encourage philanthropic habits and foster a mindset that runs year-round. "Embrace Hunger Relief Day is just that—one day to make an impact," says Matt Nielsen, COO of Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, whose team volunteered this morning at Feed My Starving Children in Libertyville, Ill. "I would encourage everyone in the specialty food community to take what they learn on Friday and extend it into the next year, whether it be through additional volunteer efforts or donating to an organization such as the Specialty Food Foundation. Let’s take the impact of this one day and turn it into something even bigger."