VENTURA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--“Thank you for the food, but do you know of anywhere hiring for work?”—a question FOOD Share President and CEO Bonnie Weigel hears too frequently since taking the helm of Ventura County’s regional food bank in 2008.
In five short years after the economy took a sharp downward turn due to the recession, hunger in Ventura County grew by 63 percent with more than 74,500 people seeking FOOD Share’s assistance per month. As the demand grew, Weigel had to devise creative and cost-effective ways to feed the increasing population of hungry people.
While Weigel views her ability to meet the immediate needs of the hungry population as a small victory, she sets her sights on strategies to put her out of a job. Every day she asks herself, “What can be done to shorten the line in the future, helping our friends and neighbors reach a place of self-sufficiency?”
Innovative Solutions: Feed the Line, Shorten the Line
For the past two years, Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, has asked Weigel to share her viewpoints and to help lead the nationwide conversation on ways to eliminate hunger. As a member of Feeding America’s Diversity Inclusion Team, Weigel speaks at numerous national conventions every year.
Weigel’s collaboration with Feeding America has helped bring a more holistic view to the organization, delivering solution-based concepts to end hunger in the United States for good. Her ideas were instrumental in the creation of the organization’s Collaborative 4 Clients (C4C) Advisory Team, a major multi-year initiative that aims to find ways to plan and implement local collaborative initiatives that address client stability and self-sufficiency.
“Bonnie is a great collaborator and is highly respected among her food banking peers. She has fostered an atmosphere of innovation among her staff and she has emerged as an important voice in our network on the importance of driving collective by working with other organizations and community groups to help improve circumstances and opportunities for people struggling with hunger,” said Matt Knott, President of Feeding America.
Weigel, who works with Ventura County Together (VCT), an alliance of non-profit and public agencies that are leading providers of food, shelter and health care, shared with her colleagues what is occurring at the national level around the C4C initiative; the organization’s members felt there was an opportunity to explore and move the initiative at a local level and introduce it as a best practice. The conversation resulted in the development of the C4C Task Force Initiative for VCT.
Leading from a Place of Abundance
Weigel’s philosophy to leading the charge for the new C4C Task Force Initiative is simple—rather than working from a place of scarcity, she believes in leading from a place of abundance.
“Ventura County is further down the road than other partners across the country. It is our job to create a model that will work for our unique market,” Weigel explains.
Weigel plans to create this successful model without the help of government, and utilizing funds from private businesses that support the research. This year, Weigel received a generous grant of $500,000 from the Esper A. Petersen Foundation, an Illinois-based charity founded by Esper A. Petersen, a trailblazer of the plastics industry, nearly 70 years ago. The foundation’s director, Esper Petersen Jr., continues his father’s legacy by funding philanthropic projects that improve social conditions. The multibillionaire, who currently resides in Ventura County, has habitually donated to FOOD Share for years, and looked forward to the opportunity to fund a project. He is enthusiastic to support the local C4C Task Force Initiative which he believes is on the verge of discovering lasting solutions so families can care for their children independent of assistance programs.
Weigel’s work has also captured the attention of civil society leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank and pioneered the business concepts of microcredit and microfinance to successfully pull people out of poverty for good, will join in Weigel’s mission and help her establish a social business mode for the C4C initiative.
“Successful results will be the day when someone stops coming back to a food pantry, has access to healthcare and a place to call home. There are currently 18,500 families who need our assistance, and our first goal to get 18 families to a stable place where they can stand on their own. Once we can achieve this, that’s when we’ll know we have created a successful pathway toward self-sufficiency that can be used as a best practice.”