LL Bean boxing food, not flannel, to help during pandemic

LL Bean boxing food, not flannel, to help during pandemic

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Virus Outbreak LL Bean

Mike Goodhartt and other workers at the L.L. Bean shipping center box up donated canned foods to be distributed for food pantries across the state of Maine on Tuesday, in Freeport, Maine.

With many workers idled because of the coronavirus, L.L. Bean is going to use its shipping hub to pack food for pantries across the state.

The outdoors retailer is partnering with Maine's largest food bank, Good Shepherd. The company's workers will sort and package food in boxes that Good Shepherd will ship to food pantries in all 16 counties.

Prepackaged boxes reduce the need for pantry volunteers to sort and distribute food and makes it easier to hand off to families at a time when some pantries are offering drive-by service because of the virus, said Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd.

The arrangement will reduce Good Shepherd's reliance on local food pantry volunteers, many of whom are older and should be at home.

“Sixty-five years old would be considered young for our food pantry volunteers,” Miale told The Associated Press. “These volunteers are incredibly dedicated and they’re not going to stay home if they know that staying home means someone will go hungry.”

A trial run started recently with 5,000 boxes. After the food is sorted and packed in L.L. Bean boxes, the food will be returned to Good Shepherd in Auburn for distribution to hundreds of locations.

All told, Good Shepherd ships the equivalent of 16 tractor-trailers of food — about 575,000 pounds (260,800 kilograms) worth — each week, Miale said.

L.L. Bean is also looking to convert its Brunswick manufacturing center, which is temporarily shuttered during the pandemic, to produce medical protective gear like masks and other items to address a nationwide shortage, L.L. Bean spokeswoman Amanda Hannah said.

The retailer is coming off a disappointing year. Sales were down 3% for the company's fiscal year compared to the previous year, and the board decided at its meeting Friday — conducted via audio and video conferencing — to forgo wage and 401(k) bonuses for 2019 and to eliminate merit pay increases in the coming year in light of the pandemic and temporary closing of all stores, CEO Steve Smith told workers in an email.

The idea is to free up resources to give more flexibility for workers dealing with medical and child care issues, he wrote.

“We want to use our resources to the best of our ability to serve our community during this unprecedented time,” Smith said.

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