This new year we all have many goals and ambitions to meet, and one aspect that we do not want to leave behind is focusing on the health and well-being of our communities as well through social good actions. Many of us as entrepreneurs, creators or small business owners already have the desire to be more involved in our communities to make a positive impact. Shaking things up and making a difference is in our DNA, after all, but the task of choosing where to dedicate your time can be daunting. As we thought of the aspects of our lives that we are constantly thinking of in order to be our best, healthy selves we always go back to food. For some, an afterthought and for many who are in need or have specific eating needs, this becomes a big everyday struggle. But what if this very basic human need is something you don’t have access to period? This week Lisa Hines-Johnson, Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff of Food Bank NYC shares her story with us and gives us a few tips on how we can get involved as well.
How To Use Your Influence For Social Good
1. To start, tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Food Bank NYC.
I was born and raised in the Bronx by a strong and compassionate Latina mother and loving grandmother who both had little but gave much to the community we lived in. I have dedicated my career to working in roles and within organizations that serve community – children and families – in some impactful way, much to their credit and example.
I have served as a leader within Food Bank For New York City for six years. Food Bank is the city’s major hunger-relief organization. Every year, we provide approximately 62 million free meals to 1.4 million New Yorkers through a network of 1,000 charities (soup kitchens, food pantries) and schools across the city’s five boroughs.
As the Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff, I lead the organization’s food sourcing, distribution, administrative services, business technology and staff development functions. I also oversee all of the organization’s programmatic areas including member engagement services, income support, nutrition education and our soup kitchen and food pantry. It is my responsibility as the organization’s “second” to ensure that the President and CEO’s vision is successfully executed while also working with staff to efficiently and effectively manage the organization’s resources.
2. What is one key lesson you’ve learned from your job about the realities of hunger in this country?
The sad truth is that too often hunger is the invisible crisis and it may be closer than you think. Hunger can affect your neighbor, your coworker, your child’s classmate. In fact, one in five New Yorkers struggles with food insecurity, as do one in eight Americans. Food Bank For New York City was founded 1983 to combat the homeless crisis among young men in New York City, but now, 35 years later, the face of hunger has changed; we serve a diverse population across the five boroughs including women, children, families, and seniors. The key lesson I’ve learned is that it takes every voice, every person to help in the fight against hunger. Each and every gift of time, talent and treasure is a needed resource that chips away at what may seem like an insurmountable challenge.
3. Could you share a story about a moment or turning point in your career that really solidified the impact you have on changing lives?
I cannot point to one moment or a turning point and I cannot solely own results or impact achieved. There are so many hands, heads, and hearts that come together in serving Food Bank For New York City’s mission. Reminders of our value and the impact we have, show up in moments – often unexpected and not always perfectly connected – that remind me why I am apart of a team that does the work that we do. These moments vary; I’ll be on my way to a meeting when I spot one of our trucks on the road with our Food Bank For New York City logo, headed to deliver food and other needed products to one of our member agencies. Or I’ll hear the story of a young person whose life was impacted by factors way beyond their control but still finds the courage to seek help for their family at our soup kitchen, eventually volunteering and becoming an advocate for themselves and their family. And I’ve witnessed the individual and collective power of the heroes that lead the charities serving communities in need during Food Bank’s (and the city’s only) annual conference on hunger and poverty – watching them learn from each other and soak up any knowledge that can strengthen their work. These and many other moments and stories, remind me that this work is not in vain, and that together – Food Bank’s incredible staff, our partners, our supporters – we can make great things happen.
4. Finally, could you share three places where people can get involved in their communities?
The first place people can look to is their local food pantry or soup kitchen. Kitchens and pantries are often run by a small group of dedicated volunteers, who are responsible for receiving, storing and distributing food to those in need. In many cases, these are small operations and volunteers are a welcome addition.
Second, volunteering at local food banks, the bodies that orchestrate the regional distribution of food to local charities, is a great way to get involved in the fight against hunger. For example, Food Bank For New York City operates a 90,000-square foot warehouse in the South Bronx. It is here that we receive food from donated food from various sources, and rely on volunteers to sort through and repack it to go out to our member agencies (soup kitchens, food pantries, schools, etc.).
Last, people can get involved in their local government and use their voice to advocate for a stronger, more robust safety net. Whenever there are cuts to social service programs and families become stretched, demand for emergency food goes up. A strengthened emergency food network means families don’t have to make tough choices and ensures everyone has access to the healthy, nutritious food they need.
Visit www.foodbanknyc.org for more information on how you can get involved.