Kroger is changing its popular Kroger Cares program, which is used by hundreds of schools, churches, booster groups and other charities in Kentucky every year to raise money.
The 98 stores in the Louisville division, which includes Lexington, Central Kentucky and much of southern Kentucky, will donate as much as $3 million this year to organizations based on how much their members shop at Kroger under a new Community Rewards program.
Previously, members had to swipe a designated Kroger gift card to pay for items and get credit for an organization. Now, the company will link a designated charity to a shopper's existing Kroger Plus account, and customers won't have to use a specific gift card.
The change is designed to make it easier for customers to participate.
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"Over 98 percent of our customers use a Kroger Plus card while making their pur chases," Kroger spokesman Tim McGurk said. "We expect that the number of nonprofit organizations participating will increase with the new Community Rewards program.
"It is much simpler for the participating organization to administer and for their individual participants to use. There will be no more reloading of gift cards required. Individuals will simply select their favorite nonprofit organization, then shop as usual.
"The customers will still receive all of their usual discounts and fuel points, and at the same time they will be helping their selected organization simply by shopping at Kroger."
One downside: Only one charity per household at a time may benefit. So families that previously used one card to help a Scout troop, another for the PTA and a third for the church youth group to spread the benefits around will have to pick one.
But Kroger will let users change their designated charity at any time online at Kroger.com/communityrewards or by calling 1-800-576-4377, option No. 3.
(Each household may earn as much as $300 quarterly for a charity.)
The change takes effect Sept. 1, and charities have begun signing up for the new system. More than 200 already are listed. Charities will receive reward checks quarterly. Kroger will pay as much as $750,000 a quarter, based on the percentage of spending.
To pick your charity, go to Kroger.com after Sept. 1.
The last day to reload existing Kroger Cares gift cards is Aug. 30; the balance on the cards will be good for any purchases and do not expire. Any unused Kroger Cares cards can continue to be used but can't be reloaded.
Organizations active under the Kroger Cares program will receive a final 4 percent payout on the outstanding balance of their accounts as of Aug. 30.
The program is part of more than $220 million that Kroger devotes annually to local communities in funding, food and products, according to the company.
For information, go to Kroger.com.