The Food Bank’s recipe for success

It was a gorgeous October day, and New Hampshire Food Bank was having a reception to celebrate the grand opening of its new facility on East Industrial Park Drive in Manchester. There were a number of dignitaries, speeches and all that sort of thing.Started on World Food Day in 1984, the Food Bank, a division of New Hampshire Catholic Charities, supplied 250,000 pounds of food to many of our less fortunate citizens during its first year. Last year, it distributed over 5.8 million pounds to 400 agencies throughout the state. The Food Bank even has mobile food pantries – vans that bring food to specified locations.If these clients were paying customers, that would be an enviable growth rate. And, although the new facility is very impressive, it’s truly unfortunate we need such a facility to feed so many people who can no longer feed themselves.Even so, the Catholic Charities and Food Bank management teams are doing their best to stem the tide. They’ve noticed many of their clients are in need because they cannot find work. Many lack basic skills, and these folks are just out of luck in the current job market.How’s that old saying go? “Give someone a fish, and you feed him for a day. Show him how to fish, and you feed him for life.” The Food Bank is providing “fishing lessons” through its innovative Recipe for Success program.Jayson McCarter, the chief instructor, can barely contain his enthusiasm. “We’re teaching them how to cook so they can get jobs in restaurants. We’ve already graduated over 100 students – 70 percent of which have found jobs.” In this economy, that’s pretty darn good.The Food Bank prepares 2,000 to 3,000 meals a week for various kitchens throughout the state, the preparation of which makes good training for the students. They get real hands-on experience, and their learning exercises help prepare the food that will be distributed to others.Restaurants in the area are learning to contact the Food Bank when looking to hire entry-level people.Both McCarter and Melanie Gosselin, executive director of the Food Bank, stress the importance of getting the students to learn the right habits. For instance, continuously washing hands and keeping the kitchen clean are absolutely essential.They teach the students about good nutrition, so they can eat healthier. In fact, the cooking skills enable the students to eat better as well as cheaper, since they can prepare their own food instead of relying on TV dinners and other prepared food, which tend to be far more expensive.But Recipe for Success doesn’t stop there. The Food Bank grows some of its produce in a community garden, and that provides a learning opportunity as well.Although many of us take our growing or gardening skills for granted, many have never had an opportunity to develop such skills.Now these are not endeavors that would normally be expected of a food bank. They’re busy enough preparing and distributing food. Who would dare ask them to provide training as well? And yet, great synergies are often derived from unlikely combinations.What about your business? Whether you provide products or services or perhaps both, is there some ancillary benefit you could provide your customers that would make them better off? That’s essentially what the Food Bank is doing. This new service could bring more revenue, and who can’t use that in today’s economy?Gosselin, who has run operations for Teradyne and Wal-Mart, is proud of her new facility, but she says it’s “bittersweet. We really need it, but it’s too bad we need such a facility. And it’s a growing problem with no end in sight.” claims 42,400 U.S. factories have closed since 2001. We’ve sent millions of jobs overseas, and now food banks are one of the fastest-growing segments of our economy. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?As we approach the holidays, please think of some things you might be able to do to make your company more competitive. You don’t want to become part of this statistic.And if you are indeed fortunate, perhaps you could make a contribution of some kind (e.g., food, money, volunteer time, etc.) to the Food Bank or some other worthy organization.Happy Holidays, and may 2011 be your best yet!Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the U.S. and in 12 countries in Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 898-1871