The arrival of summer is always a time of heightened food insecurity in north-central Florida, but rising costs for food and other basic necessities are pushing more families into crisis.
Since its inception in 1987, Bread of the Mighty Food Bank has been feeding hungry people in Alachua, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, and Levy counties. Marcia Conwell, who led the food bank from 2011 to 2021, retired in August.
The Bread of the Mighty is a private nonprofit organization that collects, sorts, stores, and distributes food and basic necessities to more than 190 nonprofit agencies including food pantries, churches, homeless shelters, and other organizations. The Food Bank has a 25,000-square-foot warehouse, 10 trucks and vehicles that transport food to mobile warehouses and partner agencies in five counties.
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In February, Shira English and Tami Gray took the reins of Mighty Bread, serving and sharing responsibilities as co-CEO. Gray also serves as Chief Financial Officer, areas of responsibility include finance and development. English language responsibilities include program and operations.
Maureen Quinlan, director of development and communications, said the food bank’s board of directors chose to create a joint leadership structure that is popular with other food banks. Having this leadership structure makes Gray and English more specialized in critical components of the process, Quinlan said.
English said she has worked with food banks for more than six years at the Gainesville and Jacksonville locations. Previously, she worked as a Customer Service Manager at Publix Supermarket in Georgia and South Carolina. She is the mother of two girls, ages 15 and 12.
Gray worked at the Food Bank as CFO for nine years. She previously worked at Thermo Fisher Scientific as part of the Asset Management team, assigned to the University of Florida. Gray has also worked for nine years in the insurance market including Nationwide Insurance. She is married and has two adult children.
Gerald Booth is Warehouse Manager, a position he has held since November 2021. Previously he worked for Performance Food Group, a food distributor with over 14,000 employees, for five years in various leadership positions, and worked in a warehouse for over 14 years. Holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
Prior to joining Food Bank Staff, Quinlan was Program Manager at Creative Services, a domestic violence/sexual assault center in Ocala. She says her 30-year career in nonprofits includes 17 years at the local United Ways. Born in Rhode Island, she attended Syracuse University where she earned a BA in Public Relations and International Relations
Quinlan spoke about food insecurity in the community.
“Our biggest needs are simple: food. We ask the community for help by organizing food campaigns where they work or attend church or social circles. Food gives us the strength to solve hunger. Without food, we cannot alleviate the stress of hunger and insecurity among individuals and families. It will also be appreciated. Financial donations. For every dollar donated, eight meals are given to those in need.”
The increase in the cost of basic living needs affects everyone and everything, especially groceries, gas, rent and utilities, Quinlan said. “The number of people with whom our partner agencies work on a daily basis to provide relief is increasing and there is food insecurity,” she said.
Quinlan said the biggest challenge facing the food bank is food insecurity as summer approaches, and cash and food donations are declining but needing increases. “School is out soon, and for many families, their children’s school is a major supplier of meals — sometimes up to three meals a day,” Quinlan said.
Gray and English said via email that they wanted to be recognized by the community. “What we are doing is continuing to do the work that has been done over the past 35 years, which is to provide hope and encouragement to those facing hunger.”
Quinlan said future plans, like most companies, include adapting to business practices in a post-pandemic society while focusing on the needs of partner agencies serving those facing hunger.
Our mission will remain: to provide hope and encouragement to families facing hunger. But we are constantly looking for opportunities to improve getting food into the hands of the hungry in the five counties we serve through strong partnerships, networking opportunities with donors and engaging more volunteers from the community. We plan to bring back our fundraising event, Empty Bowls, in 2023. The event was a huge success and was very meaningful to the participants.”