Last month, I wrote our board directors that I would be leaving Feeding Wisconsin to start a new adventure as the inaugural CEO of ImagineMKE, a start-up arts advocacy coalition with a vision of creating a thriving, vibrant, and inspired Milwaukee through a world class arts and culture sector. Up until this opportunity found me, I had thought that leaving Feeding Wisconsin was an impossibility, but this new role at ImagineMKE brings together my non-profit leadership with my lifelong passion for the arts.
This job was the unicorn that I could not pass up chasing.
But of course this means leaving this organization and our work fighting hunger together. As Feeding Wisconsin's founding Executive Director, this gives me all of the feels. At the same time, it gives me unique perspective on where we came from, where we are today, and where we can go in the future.
We have grown the state office of food banks from an initial $100,000 seed investment from UnitedHealthcare to an organization of $1.4 million as of our last 990. That's over 10x growth in just over 4 years and the vast majority of those revenues have been reinvested into our food banks and food pantries to increase their capacity to source and distribute fresh, healthy, and nutritious food, improve their ability to fight child hunger, and importantly, to increase access to FoodShare benefits for our friends and neighbors living throughout the state.
We have provided a strong voice in Madison and in DC to ensure that we could hold the line on important public benefits and to promote effective bipartisan solutions to hunger. In fact, we played a key role in passing a "no-harm" Farm Bill last year in an incredibly divisive political landscape.
We have held trainings across the state, including our annual and rapidly growing statewide summit on Hunger and Health that brings together hunger fighters, health champions, food advocates, and community builders from across the state to network, share best practices, and improve their capability to fight hunger, improve health, and strengthen communities.
And we've done this all with a small band of merry hunger fighters that I am so proud to have been a part of and have had the opportunity to lead. While the faces have changed over the years - John Stuligross, Maureen Pauly-Hubbard, Elizabeth MacPherson, Natalie Mepham, Katlyn Panka, and Kimball Banwell - we have always done our work with urgency, excellence, and integrity. I know that these values, passion, and commitment will be carried forward by the next leader of Feeding Wisconsin, who with our incomparable current team of Steph Dorfman, Amanda Keenan, and Pha Vang, will have an incredible opportunity to shape our way forward toward a healthy and hunger-free Wisconsin.
Most of all, the new leader at Feeding Wisconsin will have you.
You, who have wrote and called your legislators about Harvest for Hope and the Farm Bill and Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and who have stayed late to testify at the State Capitol, and who have endured long days on Capitol Hill for lobby meetings;
You, who have invited us into your communities and let us into your food pantries and meal programs to learn from you and your clients;
You, who have taken the time to present and speak at our trainings and conferences or who have attended our trainings and conferences and who brought home a new connection or way of working that strengthened your community;
You, who have heeded the call to volunteer, donate, and support our member food banks.
With you, my successor at Feeding Wisconsin and the staff will have all they need to build and expand on our work over the first five years of our existence.
One of my first lessons coming into the work as a professional hunger fighter over ten years ago was the we have more than enough food and resources in this country to make sure that everybody has enough to eat. Of all of the big, hairy social problems that face our country, hunger can be the most easily solved through a combination of more robust and innovative private charity and a more robust social safety net.
I still believe this. More so today than ten years ago and I am looking forward to seeing the new vision and vigor that my successor will bring to this work and how she or he will inspire our board of directors, advisory committee, staff, and you to make real progress toward a healthy and hunger-free Wisconsin.
There's a little Easter egg on our site that only a few people have seen. It's a video of me thanking the viewer for signing up for our Hunger Fighter program through a very specific link. And as I have reflected on my feelings about closing this chapter in my professional career, the sentiment expressed in that video pretty much nails it.
Again, thank you.
As ever, I wish you all good things,