A bold goal is worth the work

The Mid-Ohio Foodbank has an ambitious goal — ending hunger. That’s not going to be easy, especially since the requests for help have increased, even as Central Ohio’s economy strengthens.

President and CEO Matt Habash says in the organization’s early days, it focused on food for today — getting food to people who are hungry. Now, the focus is on tomorrow.

As a result, Habash doesn’t just run a food bank that provides enough food for about 155,000 meals each day. He also talks with people about affordable housing, the future workforce and the community’s health.

“At the end of the day, if you want to end hunger, you’ve got to move people out of poverty, and poverty only has one measurement and that’s called income/household size,” he says.

A few years ago, in 2011, Habash led a summit about getting fresh produce out of the fields and into the 200 food banks. Then, Toyota did a lean exercise, which revamped Mid-Ohio Foodbank’s distribution from a push system to a pull.

“We call it right place, right time, right food, and do it in small quantities,” he says. “We can distribute food in a couple of hours, get fresh food to people.”

Now, Mid-Ohio Foodbank wants to connect more people to fresh food and measure the impact with health care partners. (Read more about this by clicking here.) This is particularly important because 84 percent of Mid-Ohio Foodbank’s clients say the only reason they don’t buy fruits and vegetables is they can’t afford it.

Habash also says we’re all conditioned by the appearance and size of produce. But a plum the size of a nectarine, a broccoli head that gets too big, or ugly or deformed fruit is perfectly fine.

“We should be creating markets to sell less than grade A product across the entire community, not in the inner-city neighborhoods, so that more people consume fruits and vegetables,” he says.

So, yes, it will take a lot of work to end hunger. It’s more complex than just trying to find food.

“But we believe if we’re going to end hunger, if we’re trying to move people out of poverty, we’ve got to take a much more holistic look at this,” Habash says.