FRED MEYER donates $4 million and more than four million pounds of food annually. But for 85-year-old Portlander Jean Brooks, the homegrown grocery chain’s commitment to its community begins and ends with the fact that she can buy her favorite sugar snap cookies without hobbling to the store. “I have leg problems, and it’s hard to get out,” Brooks says, “so I really depend on them.”

For nearly a quarter century, the West Burnside Fred Meyer has been the unofficial headquarters of Portland nonprofit Store to Door. Every week, a wave of volunteers rolls through the grocery gathering blue bins of food to deliver to people with disabilities and vulnerable seniors like Brooks. The retailer reserves checkers and baggers for the operation, and donates around $30,000 yearly.

“We can’t tell them what to volunteer for: it’s whatever makes an employee passionate,” says Fred Meyer Manager of Community Affairs Melinda Merrill. But her office can give encouragement in the form of $200 in seed money to every employee group that mounts a volunteer effort. Store to Door is just one of the partnerships to which the company’s 33,000-person workforce dedicates tens of thousands of unpaid hours every year. The projects range from small, like cleaning up local parks, to one of the company’s biggest: the donation of $2.3 million since 1985 to the American Cancer Society. Nearly half of that sum has been raised from small-scale Relay for Life walks instigated by 250 separate teams of employees across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska. 

Forbes magazine dubbed Fred Meyer’s parent corporation, Kroger, America’s “most generous” company in 2011. But Merrill says that the nearly century-old retailer’s mind-set came from the original Fred G. Meyer, a crack businessman who was also known for donating time and money to local nonprofits. “This company grew up in Portland and shares its values,” she says. “You don’t [volunteer] to make yourself look good. You do it to keep employees, to keep customers, and to keep your community strong.”