How to feed 400,000

AT WORK

Food bank's John May says donations can be a challenge, such as when 20 tons of pears arrive

December 12, 2007|By NANCY JONES-BONBREST | NANCY JONES-BONBREST,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

John May

Chief operations officer

Maryland Food Bank, Halethorpe

Salary --$84,000

Age --42

Years on the job --1.5

How he got started --After working for 17 years in logistics and distribution for large retail stores, May decided to semi-retire. "At the end of the day, I wanted to know I made an impact. Shipping goods to stores didn't have that impact."

He and his wife bought two Curves gym franchises, but six weeks later an opportunity at the Maryland Food Bank surfaced. And May, the father of quadruplets, had always wanted to work for a nonprofit.

The nonprofit collects and distributes food donations across the state. Up to 12 million pounds of food is provided on a yearly basis to various organizations like homeless shelters, soup kitchens, after-school programs and senior centers.

Typical day --May handles the warehousing, transportation, food-sourcing and vendor relations for the food bank. He oversees everything from finding donated food to getting it to the warehouse, to delivering it to those who need it.

"One thing I love about the food bank is, I don't have a typical day," said May, who recalls a recent quiet morning that abruptly changed after 40,000 pounds of fresh pears showed up at the food bank. "I had to jump on the phone and start making calls ... before they went bad."

May usually spends four days at the office and one day traveling to meet with clients, partners and vendors. He estimates he deals with about 15 vendors during a regular day and probably takes at least 30 phone calls. He oversees 22 staff members who handle all aspects of food sourcing, transportation and warehousing.

The numbers --Almost 400,000 people are in need of food in the state. The Maryland Food Bank is the third oldest in the country and it was the first on the East Coast.

The good --Three things, said May. "I get to use all my skills. I don't know what tomorrow is going to bring and that's very exciting. And the people I work with have big hearts."

The bad --Drumming up support for hunger in Maryland. "No one wants to talk about [the fact] that it's right in our back yard. If everyone dove into the issue of hunger in Maryland, we could end this."

Message to the public --"I would remind them that hunger is every day of the year. We need as much help in January and February as they gave us in November and December."

Donations --Because of the organization's buying power and vendor relations, the Maryland Food Bank can turn a $1 donation into 17 pounds of food.

The next step --The nature of food banking is changing, said May, who believes the business is evolving to rely on unused food from restaurants and caterers. In the past, retailers would donate such things as dented canned goods. But much of that is now going to secondary markets.

To position itself for the change, the food bank is in the design stage of building a kitchen where staff members will be able to cook the donated food and freeze it in packages that can be stored up to a year.

Philosophy on the job: "Remain in love with what I do because it's a daunting task."

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest

Special to The Sun

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