Feeding the Hungry
Richard LeBer brings 15 years of foodbank experience to Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida. He joined the region’s largest hunger relief organization as president and CEO in February.
LeBer has filled nearly every position in the food bank world, from volunteer and donor to executive. Most recently, he was interim executive director of the Florida Association of Food Banks. Among other roles, Harry Chapin distributes donations to food pantries and sends fresh produce to the people who can’t get it.
LeBer leads Harry Chapin after a strong year: In fiscal year 2015, revenue increased by $2 million to nearly $34.5 million. The nonprofit is currently in the middle of a $5.1 million capital campaign.
Why were you interested in this position? It’s a continuation of a long development in my career. I love food banking.
Last fiscal year, Harry Chapin Food Bank distributed 18.7 million pounds of food, or 15.3 million meals. How well did this meet the needs of Southwest Floridians? Those meals are a big source of food to the people we serve, but there is plenty of room to do more. Children make up 40 percent of who we serve, and we are looking for ways to serve them better. Growing season ends in Florida around the same time tourism—a source of revenue for many—slows down.
Five to 10 years from now, do you expect the need in this community will be lower or higher? I think it will be higher. Since the recession in 2008, we have seen unprecedented levels of hunger. Most of the people we help have jobs and income, they just don’t have enough to feed themselves.
Do you hope to reprioritize any existing programs or initiate any new ones? We have increased the amount of fresh produce we serve, and we’ll continue to do that. People who are hungry and on a limited budget may find that affordable food isn’t healthy food. As a result, many people we serve struggle with hunger as well as nutrition-related illness. Mobile pantries can help with this because we can get fresh food to people quickly.
Harry Chapin Food Bank turns every dollar donated into $6 of food. How does it achieve this efficiency? It’s a very frugal organization. And organizations are very generous to us, so we can buy valuable food for very little.
HCFB has raised more than $3.5 million in the capital campaign. How far along does this put you on your fundraising goals? We’re very pleased with the response from the community. We are planning to wrap up the campaign in the next few months.