They may be fierce competitors when it comes to attracting customers, but when it comes to fighting hunger in their communities, grocery stores and restaurants are on the same team.
Several area businesses, as well as many other institutions and individuals, regularly donate leftover food items to nonprofit organizations.
"Pretty much all of the local grocery stores provide food to us," said Martha Henk, director of the Food Bank of East Alabama. "Most of the stores are part of what they call the Retail Store Donation Program, where we go by several times a week to pick up bakery products, produce and that type of thing."
The Food Bank of East Alabama, 375 Industry Dr. in Auburn, serves as a collection and distribution point for local soup kitchens, shelters and emergency food pantries.
"In food banking, you distribute food to agencies," Henk said. "We're part of an organization called Feeding America that's based in Chicago. It gets donated food, and then that comes down to the food-bank network."
Donations are of vital importance to the food-bank network.
"The food that we distribute is all donated, so it is really the lifeblood of the Food Bank," Henk said.
Area businesses that contribute significantly to the Food Bank of East Alabama include Kroger, Publix, the Wal-Mart distribution center in Opelika and Panera Bread in Auburn.
"Our distribution center opened up in 2000, and from day one, we've had a partnership with the Food Bank (of) East Alabama," said Brian Henderson, human resources manager at the Opelika Wal-Mart distribution center.
Henk said the distribution center is one of the Food Bank's largest donators.
Other establishments take helping out a step further.
"Some of the local grocery stores will hold drives," Henk said. "Publix (has) a spring and a winter food collection. Kroger (does) as well."
Smaller businesses also do their part to help fight hunger.
"We start fresh every day," said Mark Jinnette, general manager of the Auburn Panera Bread. "Whatever's left from the previous day as far as bread items, pastries, we donate to the Food Bank."
Jinnette said Panera Bread donates about $600 daily.
"I can't, in good conscience, throw all this food away," Jinnette said.
But Panera Bread also goes beyond donating unsold items.
"We have two collection boxes up front where customers can donate their change," Jinnette said. "That money goes to the Food Bank and Panera Bread matches that money."
Student groups on campus, like IMPACT, also volunteer at the Food Bank regularly.
"I think it (benefits) the students in the fact that they're getting in the community, and they're learning firsthand that issue of hunger," said Tim King, IMPACT adviser. "I think a lot of times with college students, you're in the college world and you don't think about pressing social issues. Oftentimes people picture Lee County as picturesque...There are people in this community that are starving."
Those interested in donating food or their time can contact the Food Bank of East Alabama at 334-821-9006. Special times are set aside for Auburn students.
"I definitely plan on volunteering at the Food Bank," said Darcey Haggan, sophomore in equine science and biosystems engineering. "It is a great way to reach out to people who are going through unfortunate times."
Jinette also encouraged student volunteering.
"It's the right thing to do," Jinette said.