Mission Feeding Hope: One man’s journey to design a means for a hunger-free Central Florida
By Dave Krepcho
Issue 11 Winter 2012
As a result of the recent economic crisis, food insecurity in the United Stated has increased dramatically. 14 million children were impoverished before the Great Recession. According to the US Census Bureau that number has increased to over 16 million today. Of the hardest hit areas are six counties in Central Florida where approximately 750,000 individuals do not know when they will have their next meal or where it will come from. This has heightened the need for the services that food banks provide to alleviate hunger; the demand on them has doubled since 2009. In Orlando, Dave Krepcho of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida values the power of design thinking to promote awareness, foster relationships and to design networks of distribution that bring civility to the concept of feeding the hungry. In this article, Dave discusses his twenty-year journey from designer to CEO of a food bank that distributes over 30 million pounds of food to over 500 agencies annually. During a time of economic crisis and widespread food insecurity, Krepcho is a 21st century strategic design leader, leading as if life matters and working diligently to bridge the gap between people in need and access to food.
Dave Krepcho’s Mission to Feed Hope
In 2011 we saw not one but two prime-time segments aired by CBS’ 60 Minutes featuring the struggling children and families of Central Florida. The state was one of the hardest hit when the economic crisis unfolded. When the housing market and construction industry collapsed, many people in the area went from living in a time of feast to suffering a time of famine. The prospect of feeding a family three meals a day has become more and more difficult as families are forced to make sacrifices in order to make ends meet. Hundreds of thousands of Central Florida’s residents now live in a state of food insecurity; they do not know, with certainty, from where their next meal will come. As a result, the demand on food banks has doubled since 2009.
The procession of people that food banks and agencies ultimately feed shatters stereotypical images that come to mind when people think of the hungry. Families and individuals of all education and income levels are experiencing loss of income, with bleak prospects for finding new work. Many of the growing elderly population are regularly going without meals and the effect on children is particularly startling. One in four children in Central Florida is suffering from hunger, many of them are also homeless. Even for many folks who have a steady income, their neighborhoods are “food deserts,” lacking grocery stores with proper nutritious foods. At Second Harvest Food Bank (SHFB) in Central Florida, we fight food insecurity through a strategy designed to provide food to as many people as possible, as efficiently and effectively as possible. We make it our mission to fight hunger in Central Florida, and put it at the heart of everything we do.
Over the past 20 years, I have worked in food banks throughout the country. I have seen people struggle to endure hunger in their everyday lives; I have seen people thrust into a state of emergency in the aftermath of natural disasters, their lives turned upside-down in an instant; and now I recognize faces of hunger victimized by the economic crisis. Throughout my experience, my background as a designer has influenced my work, and continues to help me to lead our food bank to fulfill our mission to its utmost potential. I have the opportunity to give design a seat at the strategy level, and to design key strategies for providing food to the hungry through a life-centered approach.
Feeding America, a Brief History
The first food bank was formed when a man named John van Hengel identified a problem in the food industry, and turned that challenge into an opportunity. In 1965, while volunteering to collect donations for a community dining room, van Hengel learned of local grocery stores disposing of food because the packaging was either damaged or near expiration. Equipped with this knowledge, he persuaded local grocery store managers to donate their edible, but technically unsalable, food to St. Vincent de Paul where he volunteered. After the Church began to receive more food than the dining room could use, van Hengel decided to approach St Mary’s Basilica, a larger, centrally located Church, to help him collect and to provide additional food supplies at no extra cost for social service agencies all across the area. The response from St. Mary’s was $3,000 and an abandoned building. Thus, the first food bank was established in Phoenix, Arizona.
Van Hengel went on to establish America’s Second Harvest in 1976, which would later become the Feeding America national network. Today, it is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, supporting a network of over 200 local food banks. Together, this network of food banks feeds 37 million Americans annually. Van Hengel changed the way the world looks at hunger and its relief, expanding efforts across the world, including here at Feeding America’s Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida (SHFB), where I have served as CEO for the past eight years.
The Design of a Food Bank
Food bank operations involve complex, time-sensitive processes for the distribution of food supplies. Given the great demand for food bank services, imagine if all the individual agencies in Central Florida such as emergency food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, and schools attempted to provide meals on their own. With multiple small agencies working toward the same goals many would undoubtedly face inefficiencies in the coordination of supplies, financial resources, and volunteers. Networks for collection and distribution would be less effective, and economies of scale might not be leveraged as efficiently. There would be little chance for equitable distribution to occur and many more individuals would be left hungry.
In the design considerations for each of SHFB’s programs and operations is maximizing the ability for our local agencies to feed more people. Our system fulfills a huge need for programs and agencies of all sizes—it is a demanding job 365 days a year. SHFB utilizes innovative programs and processes to distribute over 30 million pounds of food each year to over 500 agencies in Central Florida. We serve as a distribution center that solicits, collects and redistributes food to agencies, organizations and charities that in turn, provide food supplies and meals to individuals who would otherwise go without. In addition to securing food, SHFB acquires funding necessary to maximize service throughout the supply chain—from obtaining food contributions, to coordinating its distribution, from delivering it to agencies, to placing a meal in front of a hungry person or family.
“SHFB utilizes innovative programs and processes to distribute over 30 million pounds of food each year to over 500 agencies in Central Florida.”
Journey from Ad Designer to Food Bank CEO
My background before becoming involved with food banks was design. I was a designer in Miami working for large advertising firms. I realize that at least a few people may wonder how a painter, photographer, and passionate designer could possibly have become CEO of a food bank. In the 1980’s, a persistent friend—you know the type who continuously twists your arm about something they know you will absolutely love if you give it a chance, kept suggesting that I join him as a volunteer at The Daily Bread Food Bank (now called Feeding South Florida). After being asked three times, my blatant “No, I don’t know anything about hunger and I’m really not interested,” just wouldn’t suffice. Eventually, I agreed, and I am grateful that I did, although at the time I was unsure about my decision. During my first board meeting, I was enlightened by the phenomenal conversations and passion of the people at the table—a judge, a CPA, and a variety of prominent business leaders in the area. As inspiring as the board members were, I was concerned that I couldn’t offer as valuable a contribution as the business and law professionals who comprised this incredible group. After all, I believed at the time, I was merely a designer.
After three board meetings and a few months time, it hit me.
I finally realized the value that I could add to the organization as a designer; I could increase awareness about the food bank through the design of a marketing plan.
I believed that the food bank had a powerful story and huge potential. After all of my experience in advertising, I was still looking for that unique selling proposition that really stood out from the competition, and here it was! There I began by designing a point of sale promotion for a supermarket chain that yielded $300,000 dollars in the first year for the food bank—a phenomenal success! The success of that campaign validated the benefits of good design, and gave me the confidence to continue contributing my design talent and experience for the benefit of the food bank as a board member.
In 1992, the Director of The Daily Bread Food Bank resigned a few weeks after Hurricane Andrew hit. The storm devastated the area of South Florida and set the organization into a mode of crisis management that we had never known. The Chair of the Board called me in to an emergency meeting to discuss how to maintain current operations while increasing efforts to meet the new demands for disaster relief. I was asked to step in as the Director, temporarily. This occurred 20 years ago, and I continued to serve there for several years as the Director. I have been working in food banks ever since.
My experience in the food bank industry has been quite fortuitous, with opportunities arising at key points in my life. Several years into my role in South Florida, I was elected to serve on the National Board of Directors for Feeding America, where I had an active leadership position with the State of Florida and along the East Coast. Later, I became the Vice President of Business Development at Feeding America’s national headquarters in Chicago. My team was responsible for all product donations and relationships within the national food industry. Together, we designed a program that consistently took in over 450 million pounds of food donations annually.
After working in Chicago a few years, a dear colleague alerted me of the desperate need at a Feeding America Central Florida affiliate. The food bank was going through drastic organizational changes and was in need of new leadership. In learning about the food bank and its operations, I had a moment of déjà vu. I was reminded of my early experiences as a new addition in the food bank world. This organization was admirable and inspiring. It had significant potential to impact hunger in their community. I also recognized the opportunity for design strategy to play a role in their operations. During an interview for the job, I told them, “If you’re looking to continue on as you are now, and maintain the status quo, I’m not your guy. If you’re interested in change and pushing the envelope, I would love to bring you my vision and design strategy.” SHFB hired me nearly eight years ago.
My strategy was bold for a local operation that was still working through a leadership transition. They had four trucks, a very modest building and a few dozen staff. As I carefully learned SHFB’s strengths and opportunities, I found that it functioned in a very vertically-linear fashion that inhibited creativity. Additionally, while engaging with staff and proposing they create action plans, many seemed almost paralyzed because they were not used to making major decisions. This was a great staff, in need of support for transition. My goal was to empower them to make decisions and to shift the culture and design of SHFB to be more inclusive and horizontally-structured, a big change for the organization.
By my 31st day as CEO in 2004, four hurricanes had hit Central Florida in one season. I experienced yet another moment of déjà vu, reminding me of the disaster relief mode that seized The Daily Food Bank after Hurricane Andrew twelve years prior. The aftermath of the hurricanes rallied the staff and volunteers at SHFB. It was incredible! SHFB stepped outside of the transition mode we were experiencing, and we were thrust together as a dream team of sorts. We worked through the crisis to provide critically-needed food and water to the victims of the storms. The sense of urgency bonded the team, brought us together in a state of uncertainty and brought out the character I knew was innate in the amazing individuals at SHFB.
Leading by Design
Our mission is not about food, it is about people. We operate with an understanding that food is about so much more than just filling the belly. Nothing gives me more joy than to walk down the halls of the food bank and hear meetings where teams are collaborating, solving problems, and exploring opportunities. Today, I am proud to find them empowered to make decisions as a team, understanding that each of them is integral to the success of the organization. From the management staff, to our truck drivers, to our volunteers, they are all ambassadors. I attribute my personal growth and our organizational growth to the most amazing group of people I have ever known, the members of Feeding America. A creative, passionate group of optimists who support each other, we share successes, best practices, and life’s lessons. It is very much a ‘food bank family.’
In addition to the wellbeing of our staff, maintaining financial sustainability is critical to a nonprofit organization’s mission;
it is required to keep the public’s trust as well. I have come to believe that nonprofit organizations can do more to generate a return on investment (ROI), a return on community investment. Author Tom Ralser states—“Economic models can be applied to measuring even the ‘soft’ part of the nonprofit sector.” SHFB expresses its current capital campaign in terms of offering a 1400% ROI and we are constantly seeking out ways to express this value to the community. SHFB works diligently to explain the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of our system, in which every $1 dollar donated, generates $9 dollars worth of food served. It goes to show that it is not only important what a nonprofit does but also how they do it.
Being able to leverage my design background and creativity has been invaluable in business. It allows me to always think outside of the box and to always challenge the status quo. In that regard, business is contiguous with design. In both, it is important to bring together complementary players, even opposites. People with specialized skills are necessary, as are clear channels of communication and a strategy. What I have learned is that all good design starts with relationships. No matter if it is visual, personal or societal. Connectedness is at the core of a civilized society. Our constituents, many of whom have little or no income, have minimal presence in the halls of power. Our relationship with them is of great value when we have the opportunity to share their stories and represent their point of view. That camaraderie fosters compassion and empathy, values that have guided me to where I am today.
As demand for food bank services continues to grow, we must continue to seek creative and innovative ways to deliver services and earn surplus revenue that can be put back into the organization to aid our mission. So while SHFB has so much to be proud of in the past years, we are now challenged to boost our efforts. In this time of economic difficulties, we must raise $15 million dollars to increase capacity and expand operations. Our vision is crystal clear—a hunger-free Central Florida inspires and drives us. As we face staggering levels of food insecurity, SHFB is up to the challenge to do even more to be transformative in bringing positive social change to Central Florida and alleviate hunger.
Mobilizing leaders and communities by creating visibility for the problem of hunger and poverty is critical to finding holistic and viable solutions.
All good design starts with relationships. No matter if it is visual, personal or societal. Connectedness is at the core of a civilized society.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
Connect those who lead as if life matters
Be at ease with the unknown by being an active explorer
Shatter preconceptions by opening eyes
Create urgency by bonding common experiences
Challenge the status quo to avoid ‘boxing’ your solutions…there is no box!
Advocate with your example and others will follow
About the Author:
Krepcho has been President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida since July 2004. His food banking career started in 1992, during Hurricane Andrew relief efforts in Miami. Krepcho serves on Statewide and National task forces for Feeding America, the leading national hunger relief organization. He worked for Feeding America in 2000 – 2004 as Vice President of Business Development. He serves as Chair of the University of Central Florida Advisory Board for the Center For Nonprofit Management. He is a Board member of the Social Enterprise Fund, an international humanitarian organization. Krepcho was honored as 2009 Orlando Sentinel Central Floridian of the Year.