To commemorate The Global FoodBanking Network’s (GFN) 10-year anniversary, GFN has published a series of articles to highlight the organization’s history and its leaders. For its next installment, the organization interviewed Pat Tracy, Chairman of the GFN Board of Directors and former Chairman of Dot Foods, Inc., a food distributing company in the U.S.
“Pat has been a tireless and visionary leader of The Global FoodBanking Network. His commitment to reaching the world’s hungry and expanding the frontiers of food banking has been invaluable to our organization over the past decade,” said Lisa Moon, GFN President & CEO.
Mr. Tracy, who has served as Chairman of GFN’s Board of Directors for five years, spoke recently with GFN about how he became involved with the organization, how his work in the logistics industry helped him understand the true cause of hunger, and what he hopes will become of this young organization.
GFN: Thanks for your time. First, why don’t you tell us about yourself? How did you get involved with food banking?PT: I spent my entire adult life working in the food distribution business, and I’ve been involved in my family’s business Dot Foods, Inc. since 1973. Through my work, I learned that hunger isn’t a supply problem; it’s a distribution problem. There is enough food to feed everyone; it just needs to be more accessible.
As my company distributed food in different places around the U.S., I saw that a lot of products were wasted along the away. I witnessed this when food would move through a main plant, a warehouse, a retailer and a restaurant.
At the same time, I also saw that there were a lot of hungry people in my country as well. Dot Foods supports a lot of hunger-related causes, including Feeding America, the U.S.’s national network of food banks. Through that particular involvement I learned about food banks and how they redistribute food that would have been wasted to those in need.
GFN: So this experience piqued your interest in food banking. What eventually brought you to GFN?PT: One day, an old high school classmate suggested that I meet the now late Bob Forney, GFN’s Co-Founder. I spoke with Bob, and eventually met Bill Rudnick, the other GFN Co-Founder and current Board Member, to understand GFN as an organization and its mission to take the food banking concept internationally.
I have always considered myself a fortunate person, and I knew that I was in a unique position to apply my knowledge in food distribution to help others. So to hear how I can make a difference through GFN by using my expertise was a great opportunity.
GFN: Why did you decide to take a leadership role within GFN?PT: I owe a lot of my decision to get involved to Bob. I still remember the emotion he reflected with every word; he was so passionate about his work. You could sense the dedication he had to the cause in his spirit and in his intensity.
I’m the same way – I’m a passionate person. When getting involved in something, I’m all in, and I like being around people who feel the same way.
If you commit to something you need to give whatever you have to offer to it. In my particular case, I knew that I could offer leadership, distribution expertise, governance, and long-range planning. So it was an easy decision for me to accept the opportunity to exercise these skills with GFN and in my role as Chairman of the Board.
GFN: What are you goals as Chairman of the Board?PT: My interest from the very beginning was in line with the mission of the organization: to take what I consider a wonderful concept [food banking]
[/food] and spread it as quickly as possible. This has already been achieved in the U.S., thanks to Feeding America. It was, however, quite different in other countries.
Fast-forward to today, GFN works with food banks in 34 countries. This is a great achievement, and we are very proud of what we have been able to accomplish in the first ten years of the organization’s existence. However, we are always looking ahead and are anxious to scale the organization rapidly to feed more people. We have the goal to substantially increase the amount of food distributed through GFN’s network in five years. It’s a formidable task, but we have the right people in place and the right network of food banks to make this happen.
GFN: What in GFN are you most proud about?PT: I’m very proud of the success we’ve had with helping countries establish national networks. For example, GFN, with its partners on the ground, was closely involved with the creation of the South African national food bank network, Food Bank South Africa. It has been a joy seeing it become the successful, thriving food bank network it is today.
Also, I’m especially pleased with how we’ve been able to maintain the organization throughout the years. For the most part of our existence, we’ve been a startup organization that has naturally had its fair share of challenges in the early years!
We’ve been able to steer the ship well during moments of turmoil, such as when we suddenly lost Bob Forney, who was the President & CEO of the organization at that time, and we’ve managed some difficult financial moments during the organization’s history. But the Board’s, staff’s, and network’s collective passion and mission to alleviate hunger helped us get through these times without dampening our ability to make a positive impact in the world.
The fact that GFN is reaching an important milestone – its 10-year anniversary – is a testament to the perseverance and hard work by many. As a result, GFN and its network are now well positioned to move forward like never before. It has been inspiring to be a part of this organization throughout the years.
GFN: What is your most memorable experience with GFN?PT: Each year one of our board meetings is held outside the U.S., and while there, we dedicate a full day to the local food bank/network. We learn how it operates, and we see the food bank’s different types of clients such as soup kitchens, day cares, and schools.
Most recently, we were in Colombia, and the Asociación de Banco de Alimentos de Colombia (ABACO), the country’s national food bank, took us to a school that it helps through GFN’s partnership with the Kellogg Company’s Breakfast for Better Days Program™.
We fed breakfast to the school children, who were ages 3-9 years old. Many of them arrived hungry, and the food bank primarily provided the meals they had at school. I felt honored because we had the opportunity to serve them, knowing that these meals would be fuel for their learning. When we left, the kids gave high-fives, shook our hands and the teachers gave us a hug. That was really a bright spot to my day.
GFN: What makes the work so rewarding?PT: Meeting the people who are doing anti-hunger work everyday and have devoted their lives to helping others has been so rewarding. Through my involvement, I’ve been able to engage with a lot of talented and committed individuals from around the world – from food bank directors to GFN staff members. I met a lot of people who I have enjoyed working with side-by-side in the fight against hunger and who I now consider dear friends.
Ultimately, though, the most rewarding aspect is the opportunity to help our neighbors around the world: the 4-year-old old child with wide eyes, the elderly person who is trying to scratch out enough food for himself each day, or the single mom who is struggling to squeeze out the basic necessities of life for her children. Knowing that GFN’s network was able to help these people is the most gratifying part of the job.
GFN: What excites you most about GFN’s future?PT: I’m proud that we support food banks/networks in 34 countries, many of which we have played a major role in founding. However, there are many more countries where food banks are needed to address hunger. There are nearly 800 million people in the world who do not have enough to eat, so we still have a lot of work to do.
I believe with our current staff and board we are well positioned to help GFN grow as an organization and secure its food-banking concept around the world.
I have been blessed in countless ways, especially with my faith, and I consider it a great honor to have the opportunity to serve in this manner.