Food Bank grew dramatically under Griswold

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — On a Sunday, the day before Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina opened its doors on Oct. 11, 1982, its executive director and only employee got a phone call at home.

Jones Bakery wanted to donate 3,000 hotdog buns left over from the opening of Piedmont Triad International Airport.

So Nan Griswold, the executive director, went to the office, opened the doors and received the buns.

“We weren’t even set up for operations,” she says. “It was manna from heaven.”

The Winston-Salem-based Food Bank, the needs it addresses and the challenges it faces have grown significantly in the past 26 years, says Griswold, who retired effective Oct. 3.

Succeeding her is Clyde Fitzgerald, a retired senior executive at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., most recently as CEO of Toronto-based RJR MacDonald, and a long-time Food Bank board member who moved directly from the board to the agency’s top executive job.

Griswold’s decision to retire, disclosed to the Food Bank board in a letter Sept. 24 that included an offer to continue working for three months on an interim basis, came during a tough year personally for her, she says.

In December, her husband, George, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

In June, a month after the couple moved into Salemtowne Retirement Community, the house they still owned and were renovating burned and had to be demolished.

On July 5, she found a lump in her breast that later was found to be benign.

And 10 days later, she tripped and fractured her left ankle, fibula and tibia.

“This has not been a good summer,” she says.

Ron Drago, president and CEO of United Way of Forsyth County, says Griswold built the Food Bank into “one of the most prominent and effective nonprofit agencies” in the county and region, creating a “model of innovation” that developed strong core programs and expanded them with creative initiatives to better serve people who are hungry and in need.

“She will be missed,” Drago says.

When it opened, the Food Bank was based in 1,800 square feet or rented warehouse space; its equipment consisted of a single forklift, desk and phone; its annual budget totaled $100,000; and it distributed 100,000 pounds of food in its first three months of operation.

Today, operating with an annual budget of $4 million and a staff of 40 people in over 64,000 square feet of space, the Food Bank distributes nine million pounds of food a year to 390 agencies serving 150,000 people in 18 counties.

In addition to distributing food, the Food Bank operates a community kitchen that provides culinary training for people who face economic challenges, and distributes food for kids in after-school programs and for the weekends.

The Triad Community Kitchen, which opened two years ago, has produced nearly 100 graduates, some of whom as student were still living in homeless shelters, some who had lost jobs in the manufacturing or furniture industries, and some single mothers who no longer wanted to depend on government support.

The kitchen this year aims to produce 80,000 pounds of food that is vacuum-sealed in three-gallon plastic bags and can be reheated by the soup kitchens, shelters and other on-site feeding agencies to which the Food Bank distributes it.

Through Kids Café, the after-school program it started in 1997, the Food Bank delivers a nutritious meal and provides tutoring and enrichment to a total of at least 700 kids at seven sites in Forsyth County and three in Guilford County.

And through its BackPack program, launched in 2005, the Food Bank provides food that lets its partner agencies each Friday deliver three to four meals to roughly 400 kids at rural elementary schools in five counties.

During her tenure, Griswold helped the Food Bank raise $4.3 million in three capital campaigns and helped spur the creation or consolidation of agencies to better address local needs, such as Iredell Christian Ministries in Statesville and The Lord’s Pantry in Rockingham, formed by Hampton Heights Baptist Church to address the needs of workers who lost jobs with the closing of Pillowtex.

Griswold says the current economic slump represents “the most critical time for people in need” since creation of the Food Bank.

“It is the hardest time to raise food and money right now,” she says.

In addition to donated food it distributes to them, agencies facing rising demand for food have begun buying food from the Food Bank because it charges less than do grocery stores, she says.

She also expects to see more consolidation or mergers among nonprofits.

Critical to the Food Bank’s work in addressing hunger has been strong community support, she says, particularly donations from the food industry.

“Hunger is a solvable problem,” she says. “Communities have got to have the will to understand the problem and to take action.”

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