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Whole Foods Aids Needy

Company's mission include community service.

Twice a week, Paulo Martinez drives Reston Interfaith's white van to the back of the Whole Foods Market grocery store at Plaza America, where he is met by a gaggle of employees who help load the van with hundreds of pounds of baked goods and fresh produce.

Once the van is full, Martinez drives it back to Reston Interfaith's food bank near Lake Anne, where it will be distributed among 250 low-income families living primarily in Reston and Herndon. Each week, Whole Foods Market donates almost 1,300 pounds of food to the food bank, said Melanie Taylor, Reston Interfaith's director of development.

"Whole Foods donates a tremendous amount of food to us every week," Taylor said.

The regular contributions to Reston Interfaith's food bank are just a glimpse into Whole Foods' broad commitment to community service and were a key reason the Reston Whole Foods Market was chosen as a 2004 recipient of the Best of Reston awards, an annual fundraiser for Reston Interfaith.

Whole Foods was started about 25 years ago in Texas, where it is still based. Ever since its creation, community service has been part of the company's corporate philosophy, said Nicole Criss, Whole Foods Market's community liaison.

"Whole Foods Market is a company with a mission," she said. "We understand that our customers support us, so we support our neighborhood."

The main idea, Criss said, is for Whole Foods to distinguish itself from its competitors by taking a greater role in charity work, giving its customers the impression they are helping the community by shopping there.

"It sort of breeds good will for us to be this giving," Criss said. "We want people to feel this is a different place."

Apart from donating food to the Reston Interfaith food bank, the Reston Whole Foods Market also contributes thousands of pounds of food each week to a Loudoun County food bank.

LAST SATURDAY, the Reston Whole Foods Market was holding a collection for baby items, such as bottles, diapers, baby monitors, and car seats. To help the collection along, Whole Foods donated one baby item — from a particular brand the store sells — for every baby item customers bought.

The collection, part of Reston Interfaith's Healthy Families program, is a typical example of the community service in which Whole Foods is perpetually involved.

Perhaps Whole Food's biggest charity work is evident in their monetary donations to local non-profit organizations. Each year, the store donates at least 5 percent of their total net profits and four times a year, it donates 5 percent of the daily net profits to a single organization.

Past recipients of the Reston store's contributions include the Character Counts Coalition, which runs Ethics Day at South Lakes High School, and the fund to construct the new Nature House in Reston.

Whole Foods tries to support organizations that fit into their ideals of organic farming and healthy living, Criss said.

The Reston Whole Foods Market also regularly provides water and bananas at charity running events, and their employees participate in the Relay for Life every year.

LAST WEEK'S DONATION to Reston Interfaith's food bank included chocolate soy ice cream, organic oatmeal for babies, all-natural stuffing, and fresh fruit.

"It makes me smile that people who get food from Reston Interfaith are getting healthy foods — like whole grain bread rather than something filled with GMO's," Criss said. A GMO is a genetically-modified organism, including food.

Most food bank donations are typically dry goods, Taylor said, and Whole Foods provides the food bank with crucial fresh fruit and produce. Whole Foods is among Reston Interfaith's largest food contributors overall, she said.