Recent events have compelled nonprofit organizations to change the way they get work done, how they deliver their services, and what they do to achieve a more just and equitable society. So, The Business of Giving has connected with those organizations that are doing this exceptionally well in a segment we call: The Paths Forward. Because there is more than just one way.
Denver: In this edition of The Paths Forward we’ll speak with team members at Food Forward.. an organization that has distributed 250 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables recovered across Los Angeles, 11 more California counties, and six adjacent states and tribal lands.
We’ll start with their Founder & CEO, Rick Nahmias, on why they decided to be a nonprofit organization.
Rick Nahmias: And the reason we do it is exactly for what I said earlier is there are a number of organizations that offer produce at low costs. We have found that most of our partners will still avoid paying that because they don’t have it. And our feeling is we’re being given it for free, we should share it for free. It doesn’t work for everybody, and there’s plenty of folks that say, “Oh, you should be a social enterprise in the world as it is today.” We have donors who’ve been with us from day one that understand the need. They also understand the multiple wins in it, and that if we were charging for it, we would not be able to move as much of it. And so, we are really explicit that it’s the model that’s right for us and the crossroads we’re at in Los Angeles.
Denver: The people who work at Food Forward are there because of the mission as Vivian, Andrea and for staff member, Mauricio, Palacios interpreted in English attest to.
Vivian: I think the pandemic really just motivated us more. Like we just saw a huge increase in need and it was like, we’re doing very important work. I mean, you kind of go in knowing that you’re doing good, but when we give out the produce, it is a fine line for some people between eating and not eating. And that is a huge responsibility on an individual person. So, I think that when the pandemic happened, we just really saw how bad it was. And it’s just kind of something inside you shifts that I am able to help this many people, and it’s a very powerful feeling. And I think that goes back into the ego, like the only reason it pushes you that hard is because it’s something bigger than yourself.
Andrea: I had been in journalism my entire working life before that in print newspapers. And it’s almost exactly the opposite. In print journalism, you are asking people, you’re prying, you want to know more, you’re asking so many questions and here we have this beautiful profession where we rescue fruit and get it to people without any questions, it’s just giving and giving. And it has filled a need in me that I didn’t really know I had, and I’ve just found it to be so satisfying and it just feels really good.
Mauricio: That’s very different from other jobs I had before, especially the agencies that come and pick up food are great people. They’re very thankful for
the work we do, especially because all the products that we donate is very important for their work and the work they do, and this is totally different to any
of the jobs I’ve ever experienced. I think here in this particular organization, we see our team as a family no matter what position you have within the organization. I work within the shipping department, and I’m the one who works loading and unloading fruit. And I am very happy to be here and to help millions of people who are in need of our products.
Denver: Food Forward is very intentional about the Hiring Process and once you’re on Board they then are equally intentional about being inclusive…..as Melina, Vivian and for staff member, Mauricio, Palacios interpreted in English explain.
Melina: And I think when I was going through that process, there were moments where I was like why is this interview process so intense. And then upon getting hired, I realized every single person who works at Food Forward is special for one reason or another. And that means it could mean that they have very specific skills. It could mean that they have a very specific personality. It could mean that they really know how to think outside the box and they know how to bring it to a workspace. But I think that it’s also very interesting because I have not met two individuals who are similar at Food Forward.
It’s not like there are a bunch of people that are all like a very similar type of human that they even hire. Everyone is so different yet simultaneously, everyone knows how to work together very well. And I think the one thing that is a little bit more special saucy about Food Forward is that so far, every human that I have worked with has been a really amazing listener
Vivian: So, this is the only place I have worked that really makes an effort to include everybody despite their language skills. I’ve never had interpretation in any of my other jobs. They just expect you to speak whatever everybody else speaks. And it was like, that’s not fair. You speak what you speak and it doesn’t have any bearing on what you know or can do as a person. It’s just a language. And luckily, I’ve been a part of finding our interpreters which we have here and getting all our documents translated for non-English speakers, which has really been amazing because I know a lot of people, a lot of companies wouldn’t do that
Mauricio: For example, we work in a warehouse, they don’t look at us as if we were less, they don’t underestimate us, they work at the office, and that they look at us as equals. That makes me feel really good because they do take you into consideration. There’s an equitable way of working, doesn’t matter what work you’re doing in the organization.
Denver: CEO and Founder Rick Nahmias involves the entire team in all key Decisions as Leo and for staff member, Mauricio, Palacios interpreted in English tell us.
Leo: I think a lot of things, one of the best things is he comes, he consults with you. He checked with you every time we’re going to make a decision. And that allows to give our peace of mind to say, “Hey, how about if we do it this way? How about if we do it your way?” And he takes into consideration whatever you say.
Mauricio: The fact that we actually are able to function well is the work that we did together in groups. It’s the collective work that we put together because
everything that we do, any project that’s put together, no matter how big or small it is, everybody is considered. And every single step, everybody’s opinion is considered. And at the end of the day, we make a synthesis out of everything and the conversation that we’ve had and we develop conclusions and then put forward the best solution. But we all are getting into consideration the smallest to the biggest person. So, I think that’s actually what’s made this company better and for it to grow every day more and more.
Denver: What has been the impact of the Pandemic on Food Forward? Vivian, Leo and Andrea share their thoughts on this.
Vivian: I think the pandemic really just motivated us more. Like we just saw a huge increase in need and it was like, we’re doing very important work.
I mean, you kind of go in knowing that you’re doing good, but when we give out the produce, it is a fine line for some people between eating and not eating. And that is a huge responsibility on an individual person.
So, I think that when the pandemic happened, we just really saw how bad it was. And it’s just kind of something inside you shifts that I am able to help this many people, and it’s a very powerful feeling. And I think that goes back into the ego, like the only reason it pushes you that hard is because it’s something bigger than yourself.
LEO: And everything started as a team. So, I think the willingness to do things and one picking up for each other and helping everything, that make us succeed in the pandemic.
We were moving incredible amount of our produce and box of the food boxes and everything, but it was because the team was already set. When they hire everybody, we got in mind to build that team and not to build a team of workers, but to build a team of friends who will help each other, who will cover for each other, who will push it and try to do the best thing we can.
And, I think through the pandemic, we did amazing and we were especially happy to think and we double the amount of pounds that we used to distribute.
Andrea: But as a microcosm of that, I think what’s really interesting is what happened with the Backyard Harvest team. We had to stop our general volunteer involvement. Normally, we would pick a property, literally pick a property, and we would have general volunteers come in and they would be led by train harvesters, we’d pick a tree, and that would be that.
Since we couldn’t bring general volunteers on board because of COVID and even though we were working outside, if you all remember back in those early days, we didn’t even want that kind of working together.
So, instead, what would happen would be volunteers would go to a large property and they go back the next weekend, they go back the next weekend, the same volunteers, usually a small family or a large family or maybe just one individual. And they go back to that property over and over again until it was picked clean. We saw several things happen from that. Relationships developed between the volunteers who were going and the homeowners. We had more efficient picks because people knew where they ended and where they picked up again. They became used to the property. They were more efficient during the harvesting process.
And I think that was a really, I guess, you’d call it almost a satisfying thing to see was that given all of these issues and all of these challenges, we were able to become a more efficient organization and do better with those challenges that we faced.
Denver: Finally, Melina talks about Wellbeing and Vivian the Lack of Egos at Food Forward.
Melina: I think that one massive strength that Food Forward does have is making sure that your wellbeing does come first because every time that I have
meetings with supervisors, for example, the first question asked isn’t “What did you get done this week? What’s on your plate?” It’s always “How are you? Is there anything I can do to help?” And I think that’s something that’s very special because I know in a lot of other work cultures that I’ve worked in, the first question is always ” What are you doing? How much should you get done?”
Vivian: I feel like Food Forward, I’ve come to know more as a family, especially in my position, as operations, I get to work with everybody, which is really amazing because everybody brings such a different skillset and a different personality to the company. It’s not a place like I’ve worked on. There’s no egos here. Everybody’s really just here to further the cause, to help people who don’t have food get fresh fruits and vegetables. And it’s amazing to see.
Denver: I want to thank the Food Forward team members who participated in this piece: Mauricio Torres, Andrea Howry, Melina Finck, Leonel Paz, and Vivian Poonsopin. And to learn more about Food Forward go visit their website at Foodforward.org or visit Denver-frederick.com and catch my earlier interview with Rick Nahmias, the CEO of Food Forward.
Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Strategic Advisor and Executive Coach to NGO and Nonprofit CEOs and Board Chairs. His Book, The Business of Giving: The Non-Profit Leaders Guide to Transform Leadership, Philanthropy, and Organizational Success in a Changed World, will be released in the spring of 2022.
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