While fixing some baked beans for supper recently, I noticed something weird about the cans of  Van Camps Pork and Beans I was using. Across the back of the vancamps_2label was a white band imprinted with a long row of numbers in it. Well, inquisitive minds want to know, and as I’ve been known to read the phone book (remember phone books?) when nothing else was available, I put down the mustard I was squirting into the beans and scrutinized the labels more closely.

It turns out that the code is part of a Con Agra campaign called Child Hunger Ends Here, which assists local food banks. My naturally suspicious mind (along with my hackles, whatever they are) rose up immediately. Now what wool is big business trying to pull over our eyes, I wondered. As a retired librarian, I shuddered at the memory of a certain food company’s school-assistance program, which gave schools “free” equipment in exchange for sending in labels. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good idea on some level  if you don’t take into account all the sugary cereals and other unhealthy food parents bought to “help” their kids and their kids’ schools.

However, even the least expensive item required about fifty million labels. Or maybe it just seemed like that many to the person responsible for counting them all–me.  In addition, “least expensive” meant “cheap,” in all senses of the word. A massive amount of work was  required to enter the equipment into the system before it could be checked out. More often than not, after the second or third checkout, the item quit working, and the  cost to repair it was more than the item was worth. Those are pretty much the exact words of our school’s repairman. After a dozen or so broken equipment episodes and a couple of numerically-induced, near nervous breakdowns, I learned to accept the labels with a smile and quietly pass them on to a librarian at a K-2 school who had a larger workforce of mommies who liked to count.

Back to the matter at hand. After  I put the finishing touches on my beans and stuck them in the oven, I took one of the cans upstairs to do some computer research. The altruistic me loves the idea of helping out somebody else by means of something I’m going to do anyway (hence all the TOMS shoes in my closet and TOMS coffee in my kitchen), and I hoped the program was what it claimed to be. On the other hand, the skeptical me needed some convincing! The instructions on the can said that for every code entered on the Child Hunger Ends Here website, ConAgra would donate ten cents to local food banks, but there was a five-code  limit each day per person or computer. Hmmm, did that mean my five identical codes were good for one entry or for five? Skepticism oozing from my fingertips, I typed in the eight-digit code five times and pressed “submit.” The next page asked for but didn’t require my zip code, and the next page confirmed my submission. OK, so that worked out all right, but what about the per person/per computer deal? I brought up the website on the Goat’s computer, went through the same routine, and got the same results.

With my skepticism down a couple of notches, I skimmed through the rest of the website. The program’s goal is to provide enough money to food banks for 3,000,000 meals by January 7, 2016. According to the website, enough codes have been submitted for about two-thirds of  that number, but with six months and a few days to go, it seems doable. The only drawback to the program that I could find (though I didn’t dig real deep) is that just over twenty brands participate, but the website explained that the program started in 2010 with only five participating brands and has continued to grow every year.

Well, what the heck? We try hard not to eat a lot of processed food, and we’re not going to start simply because of this campaign. But when we do eat it, you can be sure I’ll be looking for the campaign code and putting it in the computer before the package goes into the recycling tub. A couple of minutes to help feed a hungry kid? Come on, people–it’s a no-brainer!