Updated: Jan 13
From humble beginnings in the early 1980s, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC (originally known as the Food Bank of Northwest NC), has become a strong and vital regional hub and leading advocate for hunger-relief response across the 18 counties we serve.
As we begin our 40th year of service to the people of Northwest North Carolina, we give thanks to the community of supporters that continues to make our mission and work possible. The fact is that we would not be able to have achieved what we have without your involvement and that of all our wonderful volunteers, our network of dedicated food assistance partners, our generous community, and our amazing Food Bank team.
Over 40 years, we've grown from addressing the immediate needs of families facing food insecurity to innovating and collaborating around strategies and approaches that work to address the challenges driving the need for food assistance in the first place -- culinary training, nutrition education, and and expanding focus on making the biggest difference possible in the lives of community members and life in our community.
SHARING THE ABUNDANCE
80 billion pounds of food are wasted every year, yet more than 37 million Americans do not get enough nutritious food to lead healthy, productive lives. The economic and social challenges at the root of persistent food insecurity have worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, like food insecurity, continues to impact some of our neighbors disproportionately. Here, and across our nation, community members of color are more than two times as likely to struggle with food insecurity.
Forty years ago, a growing acknowledgement of poverty, food insecurity, and disparity within our community stood starkly against a backdrop of tremendous food waste and abundant agriculture in the region. These contrasting circumstances led a group of concerned citizens to figure out how to get available bounty to neighbors who needed it most.
In 1982, the Food Bank of Northwest NC hired its founding Executive Director, Nan Griswold, and our community and region officially joined the food bank movement (Feeding America). “Second Harvest” was later added to the Food Bank name to better reflect its core food rescue operations in partnership with grocery retailers, including Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods, Walmart and others. These operations continue to serve as a central hub and source of food for a network of 500+ partner food assistance programs – food pantries, community kitchens and shelters, and special meals programs for children and seniors.
Under Griswold’s leadership, awareness and support for the organization grew exponentially. Within one year of opening the Food Bank moved twice, leaving its first 1,800 sq. ft. warehouse and landing in a 9,700 sq. ft. space in the Old North State Supply Company building on Liberty Street, donated to the Winston-Salem Foundation by Richard Budd. Ten years into operations, our community supported the construction of a 34,000 sq. ft. warehouse.
MAKING ROOM AT THE TABLE
In 2002, the community rallied to support Second Harvest’s Making Room at the Table campaign, nearly doubling the size of the Food Bank's warehouse and allowing for the introduction of the BackPack program, which provides meals for children on weekends. Later, the nationally recognized Providence Culinary Training (PCT) program (known originally as Triad Community Kitchen), began. Led by Chef Jeff Bacon, PCT and its social enterprises at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, focus on serving community members facing barriers to employment and changing lives, one recipe at a time.
When Griswold retired in 2008, Clyde Fitzgerald, a retired executive for Reynolds American who’d been an integral part of Second Harvest Food Bank for its entire history, including 26 years as a board member, advocate, and three terms of service as board chair, assumed the organization’s helm.
The impact of the Great Recession was already clear in the rising numbers of people seeking food assistance across Second Harvest’s network. Fitzgerald understood he would be called upon to inspire even deeper community engagement to expand the resources and impact of the organization in service to the people and communities of Northwest NC, and he did. Fitzgerald’s passion for feeding children and families was well known, respected, and supported across our region and state. Under his leadership, nine BackPack programs grew to 109 and annual food distribution grew from nearly 8 million pounds to 37 million pounds.
FORGING THE FUTURE
When Fitzgerald retired in 2018, he told Second Harvest’s many supporters that he was doing so with complete confidence that the Food Bank had hired the right person in Eric Aft to lead the organization into the future. Our entire community grieved the loss of Fitzgerald, who sadly passed away just six months after retiring, but his spirit remains at the heart of the Food Bank he loved.
In the face of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aft’s more than 30 years in nonprofit management, proven leadership in building collaborative approaches to addressing pressing community issues, and commitment to innovation and transformative change is needed now, more than ever.
“Our work is centered on the fact that food is foundational. As a community, we must ensure that every person has access to healthy food – this is required for our kids to succeed in school and our adults to perform at their best at work. For each of us, food provides the fuel for all we do.” ~ Eric Aft, Chief Executive Officer
A TURNING POINT
Aft, like the leaders before him, is keenly aware that the success of Second Harvest Food Bank cannot be measured in square footage or pounds of food.
“Our work is centered on the fact that food is foundational. As a community, we must ensure that every person has access to healthy food – this is required for our kids to succeed in school and our adults to perform at their best at work. For each of us, food provides the fuel for all we do.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of food insecurity was improving due to economic conditions; however, more than 1 in 7 individuals were still facing uncertainty over where their next nutritious meal might come from. Aft and his team understand that it will take greater ingenuity to address both the immediate challenges of hunger and its root causes.
“The future is about constant innovation and partnerships. During the pandemic, we’ve been required to adapt and change rapidly. Our success in doing so showed us what is possible. The impact of the pandemic will be felt for multiple years. We must be prepared to continue our enhanced response efforts while focusing on new, promising strategies that will position individuals for success and break the cycle of hunger and poverty.”
HUNGER FOR CHANGE
As the backbone to the region’s hunger relief network, Second Harvest understands its responsibility to lead conversations about the intersections of food insecurity, poverty, health, and racial disparities. Second Harvest is seeking ways to enhance its core mission to support people who are experiencing hunger while also addressing the circumstances underlying hunger. Over the last couple of years, this has been brought to life through explorations to expand its culinary training program and nutrition education services, distribution of more fresh produce, new methods to get food to our area’s most vulnerable children and seniors, and tenacious advocacy.
Aft says the future will require not only new thinking, but new infrastructure. “Second Harvest’s facility was not built to handle the more than 48+ million pounds it is now distributing, nor all of the programs that are creating results in the fight against hunger.”
As the Food Bank’s leaders look to the future, they know they can work better and smarter. The organization’s $13+ million Hunger for Change capital campaign, led by Cantey Alexander, Triad Market President with Truist, Chair and Cynthia Anderson, Honorary Chair, will address the capacity, efficiency, and technology constraints that are slowing transformational impact down at a time when it needs to be moving faster.
“Nan and Clyde gave us all the opportunity to be part of the solution," said Aft. "Now we are compelled to build on this history and make our work even more impactful. It is the critical mission of Second Harvest that motivates us to place all our energies in strengthening the region we call home.”
We're excited to explore our past and look forward to our future with you through our 40th anniversary year. Follow us on Facebook and stay tuned for our anniversary year events and commemorations!