Greater Cleveland Food Bank’s new CEO is driven by her passion to feed the hungry

With 17 years of her 20-year social service career in hunger relief, Kristin Warzocha knows that community support is critical to the success and growth of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

“We couldn’t do more every year, provide more meals every year, if it weren’t for more community engagement,” she says. “We reach out through our board, through volunteer committees, through leadership volunteers and try to engage as many organizations as we can.”

Named president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank in November, she’s been with the agency 14 years, serving most recently as vice president of external affairs.

Volunteers make it happen

Warzocha emphasizes the importance of having 14,000 volunteers last year to help in all aspects of the Food Bank’s mission.

“Volunteers sort and repack food donations in our community food distribution center, preparing meals in our community kitchen program and help the organization in other ways,” she says.

Volunteers come from a variety of sources with many from corporate groups.

“Everyone knows what it is like to be hungry even if it is only because lunch is late,” she says. “So it is not terribly hard for us to imagine how difficult it would be if you didn’t have access to that next meal, or worry about how you’re going to put a meal on the table for your children.

“That causes an enormous amount of stress in a family. It is a problem we all in the community can do something about.”

One of the significant reasons for the Food Bank’s growth in recent years is that it merged with two other hunger relief organizations.

“Both times, we increased the size of our organization, but we also added to the impact and the scope of our work very effectively,” Warzocha says. “We also are reducing community costs and improving services, even more importantly.”

The Food Bank provided access to 45 million meals last year, and almost 250,000 people were assisted in the six counties the organization serves.

Warzocha was a member of the management team that helped direct the mergers of the Food Bank with Food Rescue of NE Ohio and with the Greater Cleveland Committee on Hunger.

As part of the latter merger, the organization became responsible for coordinating the annual Harvest for Hunger food and funds drive, one of the largest campaigns of its type in the country. Co-chairs are Bernie Moreno, president of the Collection Auto Group, and Andrea Hogben, president of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. The event will be held in March.

“That effort, on behalf of food banks in Northeast Ohio, raises about $4 million, the equivalent of 16 million meals or more for our community,” Warzocha says.

Commitment to a plan

The organization is very committed to a strategic planning process, she says, and she is taking this opportunity to start a new strategic plan.

“I want to make sure we continue to be accountable to our plan, and to set metrics based on our plans because I think those have been key to our past success,” she says.

“But I also want to engage as many people as we can in the process. And I also want to think strategically about food as medicine.

“About two-thirds of the clients that we serve at local hunger centers have someone in their household with high blood pressure and about one-third have someone in their households who have diabetes. These are very dangerous diseases that can be significantly helped by access to a nutritious diet.”

How to reach: The Greater Cleveland Food Bank, (216) 738-2265 or www.clevelandfoodbank.org