Paying it Forward

Every county and congressional district in the United States have a population of children struggling with hunger. Much of child hunger in America is due to food insecurity, which is defined as being without reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. It’s a call for help that Nutra Blend knew they could answer.

Nutra Blend™ is a company that specializes in the production and distribution of vitamins, trace minerals and nutritive feed additives that are included in feed for livestock, poultry and pet foods. Although the amount is incredibly small, just a few grams in 2000 lbs of feed, the supplement is vital to the nutrition of animals consuming the feed.

Nutra Blend™ delivers their nutritional additives to customers across the United States. Their company culture includes an obligation, as part of the food distribution system, to do more than just blend and distribute quality products. Because Nutra Blend™ cares deeply about nutrition, and being good corporate citizens, when they looked at how to give back to the communities it was only natural that they adopted food insecure children as their charity of choice. One in six children are considered food insecure, not knowing where they will get their next meal, often relying on the school systems for core nutrition.

As part of the commitment to children, Nutra Blend™ came up with a program called “Drive to Feed™” which has several key components. The program most directly related to children in the United States is “Drive to Feed Kids™.” Through this program Nutra Blend™ does two things: help fund the nutritional backpack program and help with providing nutrient rich animal proteins to at risk children through the The Main Course Project.

The Main Course Project is in place to supplement the backpack programs because meat and milk products can spoil and can be cost prohibitive. Through the Main Course Project, Nutra Blend™ donates high quality, shelf stable meat sticks and milk to these programs so kids get the essential amino acids and other nutrients necessary for growth.

Backpack programs are run by independent groups across the country. In communities that have the program, volunteers put together “backpacks” of meals and hand those out to those kids most in need as they leave school every Friday.  

Expanding beyond the corporate office.

Nutra Blend™ knows their customer base is far reaching. Working with their customers through fundraising to help feed the children was a reasonable step. The team at Nutra Blend™ set up a purchase-based incentive program for customers which would ultimately help promote Drive to Feed Kids™ in their local communities.

To assist with funding and promoting the incentive program, Nutra Blend™ teamed up with Elanco, a company with a similar corporate mission and vision to improve animal health. Nutra Blend™ is a distributor of Elanco products, so this partnership made perfect sense.

Because the program revolves around feeding children, having a community fundraising event that involved food would bring everyone together and create awareness of the issue. And barbecue is a great way to build community and raise funds. To that end, Yoder Smokers was contacted to explore an option including their grill products as incentives.

About the incentive program

The customers of Nutra Blend™ (and Elanco) purchase supplies each year. Based on the quantity purchased, incentive points were earned. To receive the incentive, recipients had to agree that the reward would be used to help their local community. Nutra Blend thought the idea of cooking for the community as a fundraiser would be a good idea.  

Chris Hancock, Elanco Senior Account Executive for Nutra Blend™ spoke at length with Joe Phillips at Yoder Smokers about the program and the Nutra Blend™ goals. The idea was that the Yoder Smokers would be used to help local communities through barbecue fundraisers. Which, in turn, would help support food insecure children by providing funds for the local backpack program and the Main Course Project.

In the event that no local programs of this type existed, the fundraiser would help establish the Backpack program by teaming up with an appropriate local charity or food bank.

First, it was determined that the YS640 pellet grill would be an incentive many customers would recognize and appreciate. Then, realizing that some customers were larger and could obtain higher goals, two incentive levels were created.  

The first incentive level would be the YS640 itself. For a higher incentive, Chris was interested in a propane grilling element along with the ease of the pellet grill for smoking in a small compact package. Chris and Joe came up with a custom solution to fit the needs of larger community events with a custom trailer model.  

About the grill and trailers

With the initial requirements agreed upon, Yoder Smokers was commissioned to build smoker trailers and YS640 backyard carts with custom logos for the qualified buyers in March of 2017. The anticipated delivery schedule was going to be a real challenge; the trailers needed to be delivered by the end of September, with the first batch expected to deliver in April.

Yoder Smokers went to work to find the right propane grill for a trailer application. A custom Crown Verity 20” X 30” 4 burner, 64,500 BTU was chosen for its rugged construction and its ability to survive the elements. The Crown Verity was the perfect choice because it was custom built to be on a trailer. All grates, burners, doors and other associated components are designed to withstand the bumping, towing and weather that comes with an outdoor grilling environment.

With that out of the way, it was time to concentrate on the layout and the other accessories needed to make the perfect event trailer.

The standard configuration on most Yoder Smokers trailers come with a slide work table above the storage box on the front of the trailer. For the Nutra Blend™ trailers, a keg tap was requested as an add-on to the unit. For this, the storage box was divided in two sections. The first section was customized to accept a pony keg and tap, walled off and insulated so the keg could be put on ice. The second section was designed to hold the propane tanks and provide storage.

A set of 60,000 BTU burners was placed on the tongue for a warming area, or a place to have that great Cajun boil. The YS640 was placed on the curbside directly behind the fender for easy access. The Crown Verity was placed on the rear drivers side for convenient cooking access and easy clean up. When the design was complete, the perfect event trailer was created. It served all the possible cooking elements in a small footprint.

A custom design of this nature would normally be more than $10,000.00. Because the management at Yoder Smokers was excited to be part of such a great cause, the units were sold at a hefty discount to help support the Main Course project.

The Yoder Smokers team went work and delivered the first 10 trailers and 15 YS640 grills in April. To complete the order, 10 trailers were delivered to Nutra Blend™ each month over the next 3 ½ months. This was a large task when combined with the other customer orders that Yoder Smokers needed to produce. All told, production had to ramp up to 15 trailer units per month over this time period.

“The Yoder Smokers team pulled together to make it happen, it was pretty amazing to meet the dates on this order,” said Joe Phillips of Yoder Smokers.

And with the orders rolling out, the customer incentive points could be redeemed for either a custom cooking trailer with a YS640 Pellet Grill and a Crown Verity propane grill or YS640 pellet grill with the custom growers information logo.  

The results are in.

As a result of the incentive program, 47 Nutra Blend™ customers received the Santa Fe trailer units and more than 53 customers received the Yoder Smoker 640 unit. In addition to receiving the cooker reward, customer recipients also received a donation of meat sticks to be given to the local food bank or backpack program and support from Nutra Blend™ in setting up the barbecue fundraiser.

Northern Country Coop was one company that received the Santa Fe trailer. The coop has several locations across Minnesota and the trailer has traveled to three area tractor pulls and the annual “seed plot days” promoting the awareness of the backpack program. In 2017, funds raised from the program directly helped provide backpacks with nutritional food to 141 kids in three rural school systems. So far this year, that number has increased to 146 children.  

Barbara Bissen, program coordinator for the Northern Country Coop, said “The kids receiving the backpacks are excited when the weekend comes. Their eyes light up and they are anxious to see what has been included.”  

Kevin Hansen is another Coop employee working with the program. He said that they have invested further in the fundraising by adding a generator for the custom Nutra Blend™ trailer, and a tent with banners for the events. “We’ve even pulled the trailer in the parade with banners during Stacyville Brat Daze to promote the program.”

By working together, Nutra Blend™ and their customers are bringing hope in the form of nutrition to children across the United States. The programs make a difference in the lives of the children and their families, who are less stressed about getting food.  

Yoder Smokers is pleased to have been a part of Drive to Feed Kids. The community fundraisers that are put on using the Yoder Smokers help local programs by supplying funds, food or both.

“It’s exciting to know that something we’ve built has the ability to make a significant impact on the lives of others,” said Joe