As Nourishing Hope looks ahead to its 50th anniversary next year, I found myself reflecting on how I ended up serving as its Chief Operating Officer and how we – staff, volunteers, donors and members of our community – can steer this organization into a bright future.
Where I’ve Been
I have always worked within the food industry, starting a “few years” ago at the Quaker Oats Company. I started as a shift supervisor in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and always came home smelling like Aunt Jemima syrup! I advanced through the company, working in purchasing/production planning and marketing. I worked there for 20 years, then moved on to Barilla, the world’s largest pasta maker, and added working with contract manufacturing to my experience. After working there 10 years, I started to think that there must be more to work than adding to shareholder value.
At that point I turned to the nonprofit sector, where I could see the impact of the work I did on people who needed food, and help to turn their lives around. I landed at Feeding America, where I became the Chief Supply Chain Officer and led many of their initiatives around acquiring more food from retailers, manufacturers and growers, concentrating on getting more fresh produce into food banks across the country. Did you know that we as Americans waste over 70 billion pounds of food each year, not including plate waste? It seemed to me that if there was this much waste per year, coupled with over 42 million Americans who were food insecure, that this was a logistical issue, and I set out to try to make a solution a reality. After 10 years of working at Feeding America, setting strategies to secure more food and more donors, I was looking for my next opportunity. By then, I had over 40 years of experience in the food industry, and seriously considered taking early retirement – but then what was I going to do with myself! I received a call from a friend of mine who told me that Nourishing Hope was looking for a Chief Operating Officer. Timing is everything, and working at the local level was appealing to me. As it turned out, I signed up to lead the Pantry’s operations during a critical expansion phase.
Where We’re Going
As part of our strategic plan, Nourishing Hope began moving to a “hub and spoke” model, where a central warehouse would serve as the “hub,” and another 3 to 5 new sites – “spokes” – would be added over the next few years. Well, at that time, Nourishing Hope didn’t have a warehouse (“The Hub”), so that became my life for the next year. I was also busy helping the team develop a partnership with La Casa Norte and establishing Chicago’s first Online Market, where people could order food online and pick it up at their convenience, saving the time of waiting at a physical pantry site. Looking back on the last 18 months, I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything. Now I am working with staff, volunteers, Board members, donors and clients to imagine what the next chapter of Nourishing Hope could look like. We have a daunting task: Even though we are the largest food pantry in Chicago, there are so many more people who need our help.
Would you consider joining me in supporting Nourishing Hope? For those people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, it is certainly a worthwhile venture to be a part of. I cannot think of a better place to spend my next adventure, and I can’t wait to see what the next 50 years have in store for Nourishing Hope!