When my two sons were young, they couldn’t wait to start playing football.  So, when they finally reached first grade, my wife and I agreed to let them start playing tackle football. I saw this as a great chance for me to spend more time with them and I quickly signed up to be a coach. There are few things that are more fun and entertaining than watching first graders run around in different directions with helmets and pads draped over the top of them, trying to see where the ball went. 

As coaches, we wanted to keep this group of kids together through the years, so they could gel as a team and help them to be better once they hit the high school level. However, I must be completely honest and tell you, not only did they start out struggling as a team, but they flat-out stunk!  

As they became older, they could see they were not as good as the other schools in their age group, and it started becoming frustrating for them. They knew they had plenty of individual talent, but they just could not seem to get over the hump of mediocrity.  

However, as the years went by, I watched them not only start to believe in themselves more, but more importantly, they started to believe in each other. They began to build a trust and confidence that allowed each of them to know that every one of their teammates had their back and that they could accomplish anything as a team. They knew that they were stronger together. 

In the end, after all the actual blood, sweat, and tears, learning how to find success as a team, they were able to celebrate together by winning a State Championship. I am so proud of them for their willingness to stand up to the hurdles they faced in getting there and proving that teamwork truly makes the dream work. 

Though I personally learned a lot through this experience about how a team can come together to accomplish goals, I had no idea I would learn so much more after having the honor to be a part of our team at AFS. 

Looking back over all the challenges we have been through over the past few years; I try to gain as much perspective and opportunity to learn as possible. (Who would have thought we would ever find ourselves trying to find a roll of bath tissue and running around in a world filled with masked people fighting for a disinfectant wipe?) Through all the craziness, there was one thing I found was constant and that was the dedication and determination of our One Associated team. Never in my 33 years with Associated Food Stores have I seen everyone rise together in such strength and unity. From retail and operations, all the way to our corporate teams, it was proven once again that we are stronger together! 

We are now getting ready to embark on one of the largest and most challenging projects in the history of our company in distribution center modernization. Even thinking about all the planning, preparation and execution needed for this project is daunting. For the project to be successful, we will once again need to overcome challenges and hardships we have never seen before. It is a time for us to stand united with trust and confidence in one another and remember the things that have made us who we are today. I know, without any doubt, that when all the dust has settled, it will be an amazing accomplishment for us.  Because no matter what is thrown our way over these next few years, we know who we are and what we are fighting for, the success and future of the independent retailer. Stronger together once more!