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Former Kroger executive stocks Eagle Ranch’s shelves

POSTED: February 14, 2009 11:55 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Johnny Keen organizes several hundred pounds of frozen chicken and other meats inside the Paul Smith Grocery freezer. Kroger, Publix and Pepperidge Farm donated items to the children's home. The donations have reduced the ranch's food cost by half.

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Thanks to Paul Smith, the house parents at Eagle Ranch don’t have to go much farther than their front door to get all the fixings for a healthy meal or nutritious snack.

The average family of four spends around $700 a month for groceries. Smith spends much less; for just around $260, he can feed that same family three balanced meals, plus snacks.

“I know groceries,” Smith said. “I started with Kroger as a bagger and I worked my way up.”

Smith, a retired president of Kroger’s Atlanta division, used his insider knowledge and connections to help Eagle Ranch start an on-site grocery store nearly 15 years ago.

Eagle Ranch is a children’s home in Chestnut Mountain that helps boys and girls in crisis get back on track to return to a normal family life.

“I don’t know why I first came to Eagle Ranch, but I remember coming one day and thinking that this was something that (Kroger) should be involved with,” said Smith, who lives in Alpharetta. “When we first came to their (food storage area) everything was just sort of thrown in here, but now we’ve organized everything by aisles to resemble a regular grocery store.”

On those well-stocked shelves, you’ll find everything from cereal to snacks like Milano cookies. You’ll even find shampoo, cold medicine and household cleaning products.

The store, called Paul Smith Grocery, isn’t limited to nonperishable items. Thanks to a donation from Kroger, the ranch was able to install both a walk-in cooler and freezer to store fresh produce, meat and dairy products.

“As a house parent, it is very convenient to have a one-stop shop when you’re trying to run a household with 10 or 11 members,” said Johnny Keen, an Eagle Ranch house parent. “Especially with the older boys they seem to eat nonstop, so it’s great to have a store right here where we can pick up things 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

There are 54 youngsters between the ages of 8-18 living at Eagle Ranch. When you figure in staff, the Paul Smith Grocery must supply food for around 100 individuals each day.

To save money, Smith pulls out all of the stops.

“When I first started helping out here at Eagle Ranch, they were spending around $175 per person per month on food. Now we’ve gotten that down to around $65 per month,” Smith said. “A part of being involved with a nonprofit organization is being a good steward with the money that you are given. To save money we shop on Wednesdays because as a senior citizen, I get a 10 percent discount.

“In addition to that, Kroger gives retirees a 10 percent discount on (store brand) merchandise, so that really helps us cut costs, also. We also pay with a Kroger 1-2-3 Mastercard that comes with rebates. Last year, we ended up with around $4,000 worth of rebates that we turned back around and used at the store.”

Every Wednesday, Smith, Keen and two retired Kroger managers, Cliff Harris and Tony Didato, head over to the Kroger on Spout Springs Road armed with their grocery lists to buy food for the ranch.

“We have our lists arranged by aisles, so we split everything up and it usually takes us about an hour to pick up everything,” Smith said. “(Keen) faxes in our produce order after he gets a list from all of the house parents, so by the time we get to the store, they already have that all boxed up for us, so that cuts down on time also.”

Kroger isn’t the only reason that Eagle Ranch has a low grocery bill. The generosity of other companies has also helped the organization keep food costs low.

“Publix donates all of our milk, which is a huge help because we go through something like 60 gallons of milk a week,” Keen said. “And Crystal Farms donates all of the eggs.”

The list doesn’t stop there. Pepperidge Farm donates snacks, Dole offers fruit and Entenmann’s provides bread.

Although Eagle Ranch is fortunate enough to have so many companies willing to donate food and products to the organization, Smith has several tips that other shoppers can use to cut their grocery bills, such as using store discount cards, buying more store brand items and buying only what’s on your list.

“The date that is printed on the box is generally just a recommended sale by date, but it is still good for a few days after that,” he said. “So if something is marked down because the date is coming up, you should pick it up if it’s something that you need because it’s still good.”



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