How Convention Centers Are Responding to Homelessness

Author: Convene Editors       

Minneapolis Convention Center

The Minneapolis Convention Center donates all untouched leftover food, as well as surplus conference materials, to local charities. (Photo Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis/MCC)

Convention centers play a central part in Convene‘s coverage of the issue of the intersection of homelessness and the meetings industry.  Many of them are downtown, where homeless populations are concentrated. And most convention centers are publicly owned facilities, which means that in most places, local laws are designed to allow access to the community, said Brad Mayne, CVE, president and CEO, International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) and the IAVM Foundation. Which — when it comes to homeless individuals — can present challenges.

But a large number of convention centers, as public institutions, also play an active role in trying to benefit their communities, and use their resources to assist the homeless, Mayne said. Mayne reached out to the IAVM network and asked for examples of what centers are doing to help. The responses included:

The Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC) donates all untouched leftover food, as well as surplus conference materials, to local charities including People Serving People, the largest family homeless shelter in Minnesota, and YouthLink, an organization that helps young people out of homelessness. MCC donates an average of 500 pounds of prepared meals every month to People Serving People. MCC employees have an ongoing collection for the local Central Lutheran Church, which provides a drop-in center for individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty and collects change for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

The Iowa State Center in Ames donates food and asks employees to volunteer once a quarter at Food at First, a local free meal program and perishable food pantry.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) partners with the Atlanta Mission where GWCCA volunteers serve hot meals donated by the venue’s food service partner, Levy Restaurants. Team members also volunteer at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, sorting, inspecting, and packing food for distribution. The team salvaged 11,871 pounds of food — which provided enough meals to feed nine people for one year — and donated 277 pounds of food. GWCCA also has an ongoing relationship with Atlanta Mission’s Jobs For Life program to help prepare their clients for employment including jobs at GWCCA. Employees also volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

In an effort to donate not just food, but healthy food, the culinary team at Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, Canada, donates nutrient-dense vegetables, proteins, and legumes to local hunger-relief organizations like Niagara Community Outreach. Any surplus food remaining from large events is chilled, stored, and packed away before being donated as is or being repurposed as a healthier food contribution.

The Charlotte Convention Center donates food to local food banks and encourages staff members to volunteer for community projects that help the homeless.

The RiverCenter Convention Center & The Adler Performance Arts Theatre in Davenport, Iowa, not only regularly donates leftover food to local shelters, it has also replaced a large portion of landscaping with raised garden beds, called the River-Center Culinary Organic Gardens, where much of the harvest is donated to the Quad City Food Rescue Partnership.

Sanford Center in Bemidji, Minnesota, works closely with Ruby’s Pantry, an organization that procures and distributes surplus food. When a local pantry outgrew its host site, Sanford Center stepped in to host the pop-up pantry. Every month, Sanford Center assists in distributing food to more than 400 households.

The Hawai’i Convention Center (HCC) recently contributed to a United Way Annual School Supply Drive, where HCC contributed a total of 3,830 school supplies valued at more than $8,000 that will go toward helping homeless youth excel in their educational careers.

The Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) has a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to donate furniture and larger items that are left at the convention center after events. As part of its mission to partner with local nonprofits and engage the community, LACC also has a partnership with Staples Center and L.A. LIVE to collect items from AEG employees for donation. LACC and its catering provider Levy Restaurants also team up to spend one day each year at the Downtown Women’s Center, where employees sort donations and cook a home-style meal. For Thanksgiving, the LACC Levy Restaurants team prepared baskets for delivery to those in need in downtown Los Angeles.

Durham Convention Center’s Urban Ministries-Spectra team has donated more than 4,500 meals to the Durham Rescue Mission and Urban Ministries, a charity that provides food and shelter to the community. The venue also hosts and participates in the annual Empty Bowls event, from which proceeds go to Urban Ministries.

In Mississippi, the Vicksburg Convention Center’s in-house catering company donates unused food to the River City Rescue Mission. Every December, the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center discounts F&B by 15 percent for a local Homeless Coalition fundraiser event.

St. Charles Convention Center in St. Charles, Missouri, hosts Helping Hands for the Holidays, one of the largest community outreach events in the area designed to assist those in need in the area. In 2017, nearly 1,400 meals were served and more than 400 coats were donated.

Employees of the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines donate their time at the annual Meals for the Heartland Fight Against Hunger event. They also participated in the 17th Annual Adopt-a-Star campaign sponsored by Polk County Family Enrichment Center, an organization that helps families at risk of long-term welfare dependency or instability. Additionally, employees participated in a warm blanket drive in which 60 blankets were donated to the Catholic Worker House.

The Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo hosts a Thanksgiving food drive for Community Action Services and Food Bank of Provo around Thanksgiving.

Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, annually hosts Fall Feast in partnership with Give Back Cincinnati. In 2017, the 11th Annual Fall Feast was the largest Thanksgiving dinner in the tri-state area and served nearly 9,000 meals.

For the last four years, Atlantic City Convention Center Executive Chef George Fisher and his staff have prepared Thanksgiving dinner to serve to the nearly 1,000 homeless individuals at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, as well as 500 others at the Salvation Army.

Knoxville Convention Center hosts an annual Tomato Crush event, which repurposes Grainger County tomatoes into marinara sauce for Second Harvest Food Bank. At its most recent event, the convention center hosted more than 70 volunteers and produced more than 1,100 gallons of sauce.

The Manuel Fernández Juncos Children’s Home — a shelter for 55 boys between the ages of 8 and 18 — is located next to the Puerto Rico Convention Center’s (PRCC) East parking lot, and PRCC hosts monthly birthday celebrations for the boys, provides tickets to events, and prepares and serves an annual Christmas Dinner for the shelter.

Greater Columbus Convention Center hosts an annual Central Ohio Veterans Stand Down, an event providing assistance to homeless veterans in accessing services including food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, barber/beautician services, legal help, Social Security benefits, and more.

Convene thanks IAVM (International Association of Venue Managers) for its help soliciting convention-center initiatives from members.

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