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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Xander Sevey gets a sweatshirt from Brent Severe, CEO of the Granite Education Foundation, during a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the remodel of Smith’s Marketplace in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. The store, which aims to be a zero-waste store, partnered with the Granite Education Foundation to donate unsold apparel.

SALT LAKE CITY — A popular Utah grocery chain is using one of its flagship stores to tackle food waste and hunger in Salt Lake City.

Smith’s Marketplace on Wednesday commemorated the completion of a $16.7 million remodel of its store, located at 455 S. 500 East, with a grand reopening and ribbon-cutting ceremony. The newly renovated 183,000-square-foot store was redesigned to offer an "open market shopping experience" with updated decor and expanded fresh food selections such as a gourmet cheese shop, a sushi bar, and grab-n-go sandwiches and salads, explained Aubriana Martindale, Smith’s corporate affairs manager.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Aubriana Martindale, Smith’s corporate affairs manager, speaks during a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the remodel of Smith’s Marketplace in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. The store aims to be a zero waste store as part of Smith's Zero Hunger Zero Waste initiative.

Improvements also include an expanded in-store Starbucks coffee shop, as well as a revamped two-story parking garage.

Through Smith’s Zero Hunger, Zero Waste initiative, the updated store strives to reduce waste, she said, using green initiatives such as eco-friendly heating, cooling and water, new glass door freezers, and coolers with efficient LED lights. The company also plans to eliminate plastic bags by 2025, she noted.

In addition, during the remodel Smith’s required the contractor to recycle 99 percent of the project’s total nonhazardous waste like cardboard, metal, concrete brick, plastic and scrap wood, a news release stated.

"The real reason we launched the zero-waste initiative is because of hunger issues," she said. "We found that 40 percent of food produced (in the U.S.) goes wasted. In Utah, 1 in 6 children is 'food insecure.'"

As one of the largest grocery chains, the company felt an obligation to work to mitigate the problem of hunger in Utah communities, Martindale said. To that end, Smith’s instituted a food rescue program where unsold food is donated to the Utah Food Bank, she said.

"In all of our stores, we make sure that any food that we're not able to sell due to fresh (food) standards, we make sure all that food is donated to the Utah Food Bank on a daily basis," she said. The company was able to donate 4 million meals last year, she said.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Ricardo Rodriguez hands out samples during a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the remodel of Smith’s Marketplace in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. The store aims to be a zero waste store as part of Smith's Zero Hunger Zero Waste initiative.

As part of Smith's efforts to divert waste from local landfills, the company has pledged to donate eight pallets of new unsold clothes and shoes to several local schools in the Granite School District through the Granite Education Foundation. The donation of more than 20,000 items of new clothing for men, women and children has a retail value of more than $338,000, she said.

The contributions will help meet the basic needs of low-income students and their families, she noted.

"Kids need basic essentials like clothing and food," she said. "The student population the Granite Education Foundation serves is about 60 percent poverty level. We want to be part of the solution."

Brent Severe, CEO of the Granite Education Foundation — a nonprofit entity that serves the needs of the Granite School District — said the donations will help thousands of area students.

"We've found that by doing 'pop-up boutiques' at our schools that it increases parental engagement," he said. "Parents come and start shopping for clothing and interact with their child's teacher or school administrator. They then start conversations and develop relationships of trust that wouldn't exist otherwise."

He said the goal of the foundation is to help kids come to school ready to learn. By removing some of the barriers to engaged learning like food insecurity and sufficient clothing, the foundation is able to remove some of the impediments many underprivileged students face every day.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Alex Skelton, Sara Lee and Bimbo Bakeries market sales leader, stocks free loaves of bread for customers during a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the remodel of Smith’s Marketplace in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. The store aims to be a zero waste store as part of Smith's Zero Hunger Zero Waste initiative.

"If they are not getting a good night's rest or their stomachs aren't full in the morning or they don't have adequate clothing, then they are more likely not to attend school," Severe said.

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Meanwhile, Martindale said the updated store property has been designated as an idle-free campus in connection with UCAIR — the Utah Clean Air Partnership. The organization said Smith’s commitment to clean air represents a positive step for the benefit of the local environment.

"In our efforts to clear the air there are no perfect answers, but there are practical solutions. Being idle free is one of those solutions,” said UCAIR executive director Thom Carter. “By asking customers to turn off their car when using the pickup services, Smith's is showing its strong leadership and commitment to making this the best place to live, work, play and shop."