By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
When Karen Green was recruited to volunteer at the Bootheel Food Bank a decade ago, the organization was struggling. The director was ill, and the organization was suffering.
“It was a very ugly situation,” she recalls. “It needed a dose of someone who wanted to fix what was broken.” She was right in thinking that the man who recruited her, one of the founders, had her in mind as that person.
Green, a former banker, was hired as the new director. The staff, including the former director, were quietly let go. The board approved changing the name to Southeast Missouri Food Bank, and it moved to a new and better location. Green had no experience with running food banks, but she immersed herself in learning from other food banks around the country.
The organization already was involved with Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks nationwide. Feeding America had adopted BBB’s Standards for Charity Accountability as its own, and it promotes adoption of those same standards at its member food banks.
“Everything we do here is somewhere outlined in the standards,” Green said. “It’s there. It’s outlined. It’s solid.”
Green also is involved with Feeding Missouri, a statewide organization of six food banks and with the Southeast Council on Philanthropy, a local group that meets monthly to discuss ways to improve nonprofit performance.
Green hired a certified public accountant to manage the food bank’s finances, a critical role for an organization that serves other charities and runs two programs for the federal government.
“I take my role seriously when it comes to ethics and doing the right thing,” Green said. “We have extremely high standards, but the handbook can only do so much.”
Employees get the handbook when they are hired and are asked to read it. The entire staff also goes through the handbook once a year. Green attends Feeding America conferences and training, and her staff and board also receive training geared to their functions.
Green believes that communication is key to building an ethical organization. She insists that her board, staff and departments meet regularly, evaluate employees and work to deliver competitive salaries and benefits to those employees.
“Everyone knows here that you do the right thing or you don’t work for the food bank,” Green said. “Our supporters’ money symbolizes their trust. We never give them a reason to doubt us.”
Frank Finnegan, president and CEO of the St. Louis Area Foodbank, has worked with Green and her predecessor for years, and he notes that Green’s business background has helped Southeast Missouri Food Bank nearly double its food distribution to more than 8 million pounds a year.
“Karen’s done a fantastic job,” Finnegan said.
The food bank serves 180 agencies in a 16-county area in Southeast Missouri. The region includes four of the poorest counties in the state. Nonprofits it serves include food pantries and meal programs.
Fifteen employees are divided into a food distribution and procurement group and administrative staff. The food distribution group runs the 64,000-square-foot warehouse in Sikeston and coordinates food deliveries via its six trucks. Charities request food through an online system.
In addition to distributing food to other charities, the organization runs its own mobile food pantry, helps educate people on applying for food stamps and has several programs to provide food to needy children, including a backpack program that sends food home with students for weekend meals.
The largely rural region presents several challenges, Green said. For one thing, there’s a lack of infrastructure for people who need food to get it. Many rural residents lack Internet access to find out about food programs, and there’s no public transportation for them to get to food pantries or other programs.
Green has started several programs designed to make it easier for low-income parents to get food, such as food pantries in schools. Pantry visits can be scheduled to coincide with parent-teacher conferences or other school events. The refrigerated truck used for the mobile pantry allows the food bank to serve 200 to 300 families at a time in temporary locations around the region.
Green sought BBB Accreditation for the food bank in 2014 as proof that the organization is transparent and trustworthy.
“When I look at the BBB, that [seal] says you can trust us,” Green said. “You can believe in us. An informed donor should look for that seal.”
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. Southeast Missouri Food Bank has applied for the Cape Girardeau Region TORCH Awards.