As part of our Spotlight Series highlighting our client partners and their inspirational projects across all sectors, Senior Director Christopher Dake of CCS Fundraising recently spoke to Amy Beros, Vice President of Development at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina (the Food Bank). During their chat, the two discussed challenges the organization has faced, how their 2015-2016 capital campaign So All May Eat helped address those challenges, and what insights they have learned that might help other nonprofits currently engaged in strategic planning processes.

Chris: What’s the history of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina?

Amy: We were founded in 1980 as the Community Food Bank, the first food bank in North Carolina. Since our founding, we have expanded our services to keep pace with a growing demand for emergency food. Last year, we proudly distributed more than 64 million pounds of food.

On four separate occasions in our history, the Food Bank has outgrown our warehouse space. Today, we serve a network of more than 800 partner agencies such as soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, and programs for children and adults through distribution centers in Durham, Greenville, New Bern, Raleigh, the Sandhills (Southern Pines), and Wilmington. In the 34 counties served by these branches, approximately 637,000 people struggle to access nutritious and adequate amounts of food necessary for an active and healthy life.

Chris: What is the main challenge facing the Food Bank right now?

Amy: Limited warehouse capacity has been the largest single obstacle to feeding more of our hungry neighbors. For nearly 20 years, our organizational headquarters at the Raleigh branch has been the primary distribution and programming center. Since 1997, our annual food distribution has grown from 5 million pounds to 64 million pounds per year. That translates to 48 million meals provided in our communities.

With no room for growth in our existing 42,000-square-foot distribution center, we had become dependent upon off-site leased space to respond to the community need. These off-site solutions were short-term and presented challenges for logistics and staffing. They were also more expensive to operate, presented food safety and compliance concerns, and were not sustainable.

Chris: How did the So All May Eat campaign meet that challenge?

Amy: The campaign allowed us to purchase and renovate a 108,000-square-foot facility, more than doubling our size.  Through this new space, we could consolidate our off-site warehouse and office spaces to house everyone in one highly-collaborative facility.  We were also able to triple the size of our freezer and cooler space, which immediately increased our ability to distribute fresh, healthy foods to our neighbors in need.  This increase of space will enable us to distribute 16 million additional pounds of food in the next five years and double our distribution in the next 20 years so that we can move closer to eliminating the hunger gap.

Thanks to the campaign, we have significantly grown our Kids Meals & More programming, moving partners off the waiting list and getting nutritious food to our children.  We have also been able to launch a new vertical through the campaign funding and program expansion, Community Health & Engagement.  This new vertical will focus on shortening tomorrow’s lines to food banks by further building our focus on nutrition, healthy lifestyles, and solution-driven programs to eliminate the cycle of hunger.

Chris: What were some of the challenges within the campaign itself?

Amy: We fight a constant battle to educate our stakeholders on who we serve, how we do it, and how they can help. We are fortunate that we have an excellent reputation within our community, something we learned through the feasibility study we completed prior to moving forward with the campaign. Because we are good stewards of resources, our supporters were willing to step up their financial support and allowed us to engage in new relationships with individuals, corporations, and foundations. This campaign allowed us to speak more directly to those groups and educate them on our current needs and track record of success.

We have also never done a campaign so large and comprehensive. It’s a challenge to drive activity throughout many different areas. Having CCS provide onsite counsel there every day was helpful.

Chris: What surprised you the most while working on the campaign?

Amy: I knew I worked with some amazing people who are out there in our communities doing the hard work, but to have them turn around and give in support of the staff portion of the campaign was just fantastic. Seeing the type of support we received from our drivers,  our programs team, and our executive team was surprising, but it speaks to their dedication and passion. We were able to get 100% participation and raise over $75,000 in funds. It made a huge difference.  

There’s one great story about this campaign that I love to share. We have a gentleman who works in the warehouse. He loads the trucks and manages our fresh food center. He is a major advocate of the Food Bank. He was working one day when we brought in a foundation that we had high hopes of participating in the campaign at a leadership level. Foundation members engaged him in conversation, and he was fantastic in telling our story. The Foundation loved him, and long story short, we were able to secure a major gift from them that helped us with our refrigeration in the new warehouse.

Chris: Where do you see the Food Bank’s impact over the next three to five years?

Amy: The Food Bank was established to address the community health issue of hunger, which we now understand more broadly as food insecurity. Based on growing research, we know that the nutritional value of the foods we eat has a profound effect on our overall health. Food-insecure populations have higher rates of diet-related diseases (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, obesity etc.) than their food-secure neighbors. As we evolve in our understanding of hunger and its impact on one’s health, we recognize our critical role in the health promotion cycle. What we eat has a strong effect on our mental and physical well-being. The future of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina will not only provide food to those who are hungry, but truly focus on how we are impacting community health.  While we will always provide emergency food solutions, we can’t ignore the long-term consequences of hunger and health: increased healthcare costs, additional strain on education systems to meet physical and academic needs of hungry children, and continued reliance on public and private hunger relief programs to serve those in chronic need solutions.

Chris: What advice would you give to other nonprofits who need transformational projects to achieve meaningful impact?

Amy: Do your homework.  Have a solid foundation of support from your board and volunteers.  Partner with a trustworthy consulting firm.  Our partnership with CCS allowed us to really dig into the community to find out how the Food Bank was perceived.  We were able to set realistic goals with Board buy-in.  Without that, I can’t confidently say we would be in the same place as we are today.

Be sure to check out this five-minute video from the Food Bank on the grand opening of their new warehouse!

About the Author(s)

Christopher Dake has over 17 years of nonprofit management experience, having worked at leading organizations including Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, where he served as Director of the SHARE Food Network and the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. Chris provides strategic counsel on board management, major gifts, and marketing. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Xavier University and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).