Kay Carter fights hunger

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As a child in York County, S.C., Kay Carter discovered the seeds of her calling.

Her father, who repaired machines at the local Bowater paper mill, and her mother, a homemaker, were “giving people,” always helping those in need or setting an extra place at their table over the holidays, she says.

“My entire life, for as long as I can remember,” she says, “I have always taken the side of the underdog.”

That ethic of service led Carter to jobs in city and state government in South Carolina before joining the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina in Charlotte two years ago as executive director.

Charged with delivering food to nearly 550 partner agencies in 14 counties in North Carolina and two in South Carolina that feed hungry people, the Food Bank has grown rapidly under Carter’s leadership.

“Kay possesses all the essential qualities of an excellent leader,” including strong administrative skills, compassion and attention to customer service, says Wendy Duda, executive director of the York County Council on Aging, a partner agency.

Carter says she simply wants no one in the region the Food bank serves to go hungry.

On joining the Food Bank in January 2004, she says, she found it lacked a strategic plan and was “not distributing enough food to meet the needs,” or doing enough to educate the community about hunger.

So she quickly moved to create a five-year plan to do more, and increased the goals again this year.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the Food Bank delivered 16 million pounds of food, up from 7 million three years earlier, and increased to 70 pounds from 27 pounds two years earlier the amount of food distributed for every poor person in the region.

Revenue grew to $2.9 million, up from $1.8 million two years earlier, while fundraising generated $1.6 million, up from just over $800,000, although Carter says feeding more people continually requires raising more funds.

And the number of volunteer hours, each of which saves roughly $20 in labor costs, grew to 28,700 from nearly 7,900 two years earlier.

Kay Carter

Job: Executive director, Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, Charlotte, N.C.

Born: Aug. 27, 1960, Rock Hill, S.C.

Education: B.A., political science, Winthrop University; master’s in public administration, University of South Carolina

Career: City manager, York, S.C.; director, department of social services, York County, S.C.

Hobbies: Reading, shopping, antiques and collectibles, including baseball cards and cartoon items, especially Pepé Le Pew

Recent reading: Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields

Favorite movies: Each year, tries to watch all movies nominated for Academy Award for best picture

Hero: Mother Teresa. “She spent her entire life helping people who, without her, would have had no help.”

Quote: “Whoever your customer is, that’s who you should be working to please.”

The Food Bank, the main source of food for most of its partner agencies, also opened a branch in Hickory; expanded to 23 from 14 the number of sites where it gives children nutritious meals and snacks; extended to 10 months from six its annual program to deliver food to rural communities; and started providing supplemental food for homebound elderly, healthy food to at-risk populations, and food to children over the weekends in several counties.Last fall, the Food Bank delivered nearly 1 million pounds of food to victims of Hurricane Katrina and merged with Community Food Rescue, a move that reduced costs and led to the delivery of more food.Carter also has instituted a cost-saving navigation system for the Food Bank’s fleet of trucks, helped partner agencies like Duda’s secure funding, and enlisted a diverse group of volunteers, including senior citizens, children with developmental disabilities, hearing-impaired teens and prison inmates.”Everybody has something they can give,” she says.And Food Bank officials now speak to several hundred groups a year, with Carter handling half those assignments.

“One of our great goals,” she says, “should be to engage every possible person in our community in fighting hunger.”

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