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Frank Finnegan, 25 Years of Leadership in Local Hunger Relief

Frank Finnegan joined the St. Louis Area Foodbank as executive director in 1989.

Today, 25 years later, he continues to lead this remarkable nonprofit toward its goal of alleviating hunger in the bi-state region.

This brief interview offers insight from Finnegan on his role at the Foodbank and his ideas for the future.

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What initially inspired you to work for a hunger relief organization?

The money. (Laughter).

I was working at the United Way at the time and the Foodbank was in search of an executive director. I knew a few people on the board of directors at the Foodbank, so I threw my hat in. It all just fell into place.

I had worked at a number of nonprofits before but not necessarily at one that provided food assistance. I really liked the opportunity it provided. I liked that the Foodbank’s impact was relatively large, but at the same time we weren’t working directly with clients.

As executive director, and now as CEO and president, I was and am one step removed, so I don’t have those personal stories about Mrs. Smith and her kids.

I had those stories when I worked in direct service and I couldn’t leave them at work. I’d take them home. I knew I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life.

That’s what was appealing about the Foodbank. It provides a very valuable service, it’s in the field of social services, and yet, it’s not on the front line.

I liked that we could provide support and services to those who would be on the front lines.

When you started at the Foodbank, did you see yourself staying here long-term?

No. When I took the job I hadn’t been any place for longer than three or four years. So I thought I’d be here for about five years and then I’d move on. I’d stay in social services but do something else.

Well, the first five years went by very, very fast and I really enjoyed what I was doing. It gave me a lot of personal satisfaction.

I saw the organization grow during that period, and I felt good about the impact we were having in the community. I really enjoyed working with the board and the support I received. There was no need to look around. I was sure I wouldn’t find anything that would make me as happy as where I was.

The next five years went by really fast, and I’d been here 10 years. At that point I knew that windows of opportunity might be closing. I looked around a little, but decided that I really enjoyed what I was doing. I recommitted to staying at the Foodbank.

And now I’ve been here for 25 years!

What is the biggest change you have seen over the years in the fight against domestic hunger?

Twenty-five years ago, it was really much more of an emergency program. We’d provide food to pantries, soup kitchens and shelters that were serving families for a short period of time – a month to three or four months – until their crisis had passed.

We don’t see that today. Now, because of the working poor, the increases in prices of utilities and housing, and the stagnation of the growth in salaries, we’re seeing people that are coming every month and it is not going to change. They’re not in need on a short-term basis.

CEO & Board President (5)

How has your role at the Foodbank changed your perspectives?

I believe that what we do here is very important and I think that we do have an impact on fighting local hunger. I’m very proud of that.

I’ve also come to realize that the private sector and churches and volunteers are not going to end hunger. I think that is going to take a national effort.

As important as what we do is, we can’t make up for cuts to programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.)

SNAP is the largest anti-hunger program in the country. It has the largest impact, and it’s going to take an increase in SNAP to help solve hunger. Instituting universal school breakfast and lunches would go a long way as well.

What is your philosophy on Foodbank management?

Stay out of their way.

The first thing you need to do is recruit talented and energetic people and then lay out a very clear path on where you want to go. Provide the resources so that staff not only knows where we want to go, but have the resources to achieve the end result. Then stay out of their way.

At the same time, you have to have very clear metrics so that you can measure your progress toward that goal. I think it’s my responsibility to provide the direction, the resources and the motivation. It’s the staff’s responsibility to be successful. It’s a marriage of those things.

What is your vision for the future of the St. Louis Area Foodbank?

I would want it to continually be an integral part of the community.

Right now, we have 20,000 people who come out and volunteer. We have hundreds of food drives throughout the year. We have great support on our board from local corporations and we’re relatively well known within the community.

In that sense, we offer a meeting place for people of various political views and differing ideas to come together and unite to eradicate this one problem.

That’s what I want the Foodbank to continue to be.

 

By Bethany Prange

St.  Louis Area Foodbank Social Media Specialist 

 

It’s My Turn to Give Back

When I was a kid, my family needed help and organizations like the Foodbank were there for us. Now it’s my turn to give back.

This past weekend, I participated in my second food fair with the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

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This time, I donated my time on behalf of the Friends of the Foodbank, a new group of professionals committed to volunteering and representing the Foodbank at community events.

The Foodbank partnered with one of their partner agencies, a church in Washington, Mo., to provide almost 20,000 pounds of food to more than 130 families in need. Read more

How Does Your Garden Grow?

After visiting a local food bank on a school trip, I was surprised to see the limited fresh produce options for families utilizing area food banks.

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I know shelf-stable items are easier for the average person to donate during a food drive, and more practical for food pantries to store. But I also know how important fresh fruit and vegetables are to a healthy diet!

I decided I wanted to make a difference in my community in the fight for food justice.

My interest in gardening was peaked when I read about Katie’s Krops, a non-profit organization that encourages youth to grow vegetables and fruit to feed the hungry in their communities. Read more

Surviving The Summer: Accessing Meals When School Is Not In Session

The end of the school year is a time when most children rejoice.

For them, summertime means no homework and long days of playing outside with friends.

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However, for the millions of children who rely on free or reduced-price meals at school, summer means new worries.

When they can’t rely on a meal at school, these children – and their parents – are forced to worry where and how they will get their next meal.

That’s why summer feeding programs are so vital.

But in 2012, only one in seven kids who ate a free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school year also participated in a summer meal program.

That means of the 21 million kids who are eligible, only 3 million of them are receiving meals in the summer. Read more

#SolveSeniorHunger

Every year since 1963, May has been designated by the National Council of Senior Citizens as the month for the United States to appreciate and celebrate older adults and their contributions to our communities.

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Feeding America food banks like the St. Louis Area Foodbank participate in the movement by raising awareness and showing support for the 4.8 million seniors facing hunger in our country.

You can do your part to help increase awareness for the issue of senior hunger by joining our social media campaign #SolveSeniorHunger. Read more

Got Milk? Help Those Who Don’t

While we may live in the land of plenty, more than one in five children in America does not know where their next meal will come from.

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This “food insecurity” often goes hand-in-hand with childhood obesity. Disrupted meal patterns, stressful home situations, and an overall lack of access to nutritious foods contribute to both epidemics.

When kids aren’t well-nourished, they are much more likely to experience health and developmental issues, and struggle with poor academic performance and behavioral problems. Read more

Face of the Foodbank

Today, on Administrative Professionals Day, we celebrate Susan Jenkins.

Technically, Susan’s title at the St. Louis Area Foodbank is “customer service representative.”

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But in reality, we think of her more as the “Face of the Foodbank.”

That’s because Susan is the first person our agency volunteers and staff see when they come in to pick up food.

About half of our 512 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and feeding programs come to the Foodbank to pick up the food they give out to families in need. Read more

Plan Your Night Out with the Girls

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Ladies, how long has it been since you’ve enjoyed a night out with your girlfriends?

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How would you like to enjoy such a night guilt-free because you are simultaneously supporting a great charity?

If your interest has been peaked, then listen up.

On Friday, May 16, 2014, the St. Louis Area Foodbank is hosting the second annual Wine, Women and Shoes. The fun happens from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza in Clayton.

Tickets are now on sale for this high-energy event.

Throughout the night, you can:

Sample fine wines from vintners across the country

Shop for the latest fashions in shoes, accessories and jewelry

Bid on one-of-a kind trips to Napa Valley or stock your wine cellar with great live and silent auction packages

Buy a chance to win the fabulous Keys to the Closet package worth thousands of dollars! The “Closet” contains a treasure trove of jewelry, shoes, clothing, accessories and lots of other surprises!

Discover the goodies inside your Swag Bag

Taste amazing food

Buy a surprise bag of wine from the Wall of Wine

Oh, and let’s not forget the Shoe Guys. Several hunky young men will be at your service all evening, serving up the latest in fashion footwear and wine pairings.

Wear your favorite pair of shoes and compete for prizes in the Best in Shoe contest!

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So plan now to attend with your “sole” sisters! Individual tickets and Girlfriend’s packages are on sale. Buy tickets at STLFoodbank.org or call 314-292-6262.

Also, follow and like our event on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/wwsstlouis to get the latest updates and check out photos from last year’s Wine Women & Shoes.

Be There! Be Fabulous!

By Jane Corpora

Grantwriter at the St. Louis Area Foodbank