Andrew Schiff has been CEO of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank for five years, which is celebrating its 30th year in service.
Over the last four years, the demand for emergency food assistance in the state, according to the organization, has grown by 58 percent and more than 60,000 now rely on the food bank’s network of emergency services to meet their basic nutritional needs. One in three people served this way is a child younger than 18 years old.
PBN: Congratulations, Andrew, on your organization’s 30th anniversary. You celebrated with a luncheon on May 9 featuring celebrity chef and motivational speaker Jeff Henderson. Do you feel his story – turning his life around after serving time for drugs – resonated with your audience?
SCHIFF: Chef Jeff knew hunger first hand as a child, and his compassion for children facing poverty reminded us of why we work so hard to ensure that no Rhode Islander ever goes hungry. [His] message connected what we do in helping people feed their families with the bigger hope – a hope we all share – that ultimately, people can lift themselves up out of poverty so they don’t have to face hunger.
PBN: There is much to celebrate in maintaining success for three decades of ever-changing economic times. What are your largest challenges going forward?
SCHIFF: The need for food assistance persists at a record high level, and yet the food donations are down, particularly from the food industry, both nationally and locally. It's not that these businesses aren't generous – they are extremely generous, in fact. The fact is, food producers are much more efficient than they were 30 years ago. There simply isn’t as much surplus food as there used to be. So we have to find a way to bring in more food, beyond the donations we’re receiving.
PBN: Tell us a little bit about planned fundraisers and events coming for the rest of 2012?
SCHIFF: On May 12, the Letter Carriers Food Drive collected 115,000 pounds [of donated food], exceeding last year’s total. We’re also going to have a summer Food Drive to encourage the food industry folks, individuals and organizations to donate food and funds. Summer is a time of high demand because kids are out of school, missing out on school meals, and yet donations often drop. We have to remember that hunger is a daily problem that faces people 365 days a year. We can’t forget about it during the summer.
PBN: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
SCHIFF: It's tremendously inspiring to see the dedication of people across the state who have devoted their lives to helping others. We have more than 180 member agencies in every corner of this state that simply couldn't operate without staff and volunteers who are extremely passionate about their work. I'm particularly moved by people who once relied on emergency food programs and are now volunteering and giving back to help others who are struggling to make ends meet.
PBN: What’s one thing every Rhode Islander do with little effort to help combat hunger?
SCHIFF: Think of yourself as a person who can make a difference. So often, we have good intentions and really intend to send in a donation or bring food to a food drive, but we get busy and assume someone else will do it. Thousands of Rhode Island families are depending on all of us to do our part, however large or small. If you’re not sure how to help, go to rifoodbank.org. Look at the programs we have and the many ways you can get involved. Every can donated and every dollar donated makes a difference.