Question: Tell me about your role as executive director of Southeast Missouri Food Bank.
Answer: Since January 2007 I have served as executive director of Southeast Missouri Food Bank, formerly known as Bootheel Food Bank. The former director was Joel Montgomery Sr., founder of Montgomery Banks and board chairman of the food bank at the time. My husband works for Montgomery Bank and had casually mentioned to Mr. Montgomery that I was looking for a place to serve as a volunteer. He asked me to help him find ways to improve the not-for-profit operation. I had previously served on the American Cancer Society board and the United Way board, but I certainly didn't know much about managing a charity. I assumed that some of my knowledge and experience from 16 years in the financial industry, particularly in the area of marketing, could apply to my new responsibilities. I changed the organization's name to better reflect the 16 counties of Missouri that we serve, created a website and began recruiting qualified staff and board members. The most significant change was when I opened the food distribution center on Nash Road in Cape Girardeau. Up until that time the food bank had a Sikeston, Mo., base of operation. We still have a storage warehouse and a food pantry that we operate there.
Q: Tell me about your work in the banking business before joining to the Southeast Missouri Food Bank.
A: I was born and raised in Jackson. Most of my working career, 16 years, was spent in the local banking industry. I endured the savings and loan crisis of the '80s working at Heritage Savings and Loan and First Federal Savings and Loan. I then experienced how the effects of the economy and deregulation affected banking as an employee of Mercantile Bank in the '90s. [It was] a very confusing and unsettling time for consumers and bank employees, as they experienced mergers and acquisitions and old familiar names like Mercantile Bank were replaced with names ... like US Bank where I was employed until 2002.
Q: How many people does the food bank serve through its programs?
A: Founded in 1985, the food bank provides food to charitable and disaster relief programs in Southeast Missouri. An affiliate of Feeding America -- formerly America's Second Harvest -- the nation's food bank network, we serve more than 150 not-for-profit hunger relief agencies in 16 counties of Southeast Missouri. Six of these counties are the poorest in the state. Member agencies include food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters for the abused and homeless, senior resident programs, low-income children's programs and not-for-profit rehabilitation facilities. Approximately 40,000 families receive assistance through our hunger relief network each month. At the end of 2006 the food bank had distributed 2 million pounds of food to the region; at the end of 2009 we exceeded 5 million pounds, so the need is growing.
The Food Bank offers low- or no-cost food products to qualified 501(c)3 agencies that must provide the foods, products or meals at no charge. We are able to accomplish this through the generosity of individuals, corporations, foundations and volunteers who support our worthy cause.
Q: What new programs have been developed to expand the food bank's services?
A: In 2009 we brought two innovative feeding programs to the area. BackPacks for Friday is simple: Volunteers fill backpacks with nutritious, nonperishable food and snacks, then they are delivered to participating schools, and the backpacks are discreetly distributed to children to take home over the weekend or vacation. Community response to the hunger problem has made this program available at Jefferson and Blanchard elementary schools in Cape Girardeau, Orchard Elementary in Jackson, Morehouse Elementary and Southeast Elementary in Sikeston and Kennett, Mo., schools so far. Many more schools desperately need it. Southeast Missouri Food Bank's Mobile Food Pantry fills gaps in emergency food assistance. Each distribution can serve up to 500 people, providing clients with a week's worth of basic staples, fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and frozen foods. In our first year of Mobile Pantry operation we were able to provide 350,000 pounds of supplemental food to needy families.
Q: What do you enjoy most about what your job?
A: If you claim to have faith in God, that faith should be demonstrated in your daily activities whether at home, church or in the workplace. As people who have experienced the grace of God we in turn are called to love, serve and help others. So as executive director of the Southeast Missouri Food Bank my job description matches this calling. I see it as a personal challenge and a God-given privilege to serve here.
Q: What's something people may not know about your organization?
A: A food bank is a not-for-profit, charitable organization that distributes mostly donated food to a wide variety of agencies that in turn feed the hungry. Food pantries are not food banks. The counties the food bank serves are Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau, Carter, Dunklin, Madison, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Perry, Reynolds, Ripley, Scott, Ste. Genevieve, Stoddard and Wayne. Pemiscot County is the poorest county in Missouri and ranks in the top 100 poorest counties in the United States.
Q: What is the greatest need at the food bank right now?
A: It has been 25 years since Southeast Missouri Food Bank began serving the region and the organization still has no place to call home. We are seeking a facility for purchase or a parcel of land to build a suitable warehouse and office space in Cape Girardeau County. We will need approximately a 7-acre site and a building size of 50,000 square feet of space or more. As a charity, gifts are tax-deductible, and we also have $250,000 in Neighborhood Assistance Tax credits available for use toward this project.