Welcoming back Toby Ives: A Q&A

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Toby Ives our new Interim President and CEO is from Asheville, N.C., and has a nearly 30-year career in food banking. He has served as the interim CEO for several food banks in the Feeding America network, including the Harry Chapin Food Bank (HCFB) in 2007.

HCFB: Welcome back, Toby! We’re curious, what first inspired you to get involved in food banking?
TI: In 1988 I was finishing up a contract position when a friend, who was also a board member at MANNA Food Bank, called me. She said their food bank was looking for a new executive director and encouraged me to apply. I asked, ‘What is a food bank?’ Her answer interested me. I wanted to work at something where I might do some good and might avoid doing any harm; I thought it would fit that criteria and be fun for a few years. I retired in 2004, but have continued to be involved in food banking nationally and internationally since then. 

HCFB: Do you have a personal formula for success?
TI: Someone once told me that ‘Humor at the expense of someone with no budget is not funny,’ and I believe that. I have a huge humor budget so I laugh at myself and am almost always fine when people laugh at me. I believe there is goodness in every person and I try to relate from what bit of goodness is in me to the goodness in others.

HCFB: How have you seen food banks evolve?
TI: Initially food banking was on the fringe of society. Food banks rescued food from Dumpsters. Food banks told anyone who would listen that hunger and food waste were not acceptable in our country. Slowly over the years businesses, large corporations and much of the general public learned of both problems and joined forces to address them. Food banking has now become part of our national fabric in preventing food waste and in serving families, children, the elderly and others in need. Food banks now promote healthy eating and nutrition, which prepares children to learn and prevents illness, particularly in the elderly.

HCFB: What have you learned since the last time you served as our Interim President and CEO?
TI: Since 2007 I have served as an interim food bank executive at six food banks across the country and served as a special project coordinator for Feeding America (formerly called Second Harvest). My wife, Sally, and I also spent six months in the Republic of South Africa (RSA) working for the Global FoodBank Network (GFBN). We helped GFBN start food banks in four cities. I have continued to learn much through those experiences, both personally and professionally. I have learned that hunger is a chronic and persistent problem in the U.S.A. and around the world. Hunger is hidden in the U.S.A. to a large extent because we ‘drive around’ it. We don’t want to see it or admit that it exists in the country we love so dearly.  

HCFB: Tell us more about South Africa?
TI: South Africa was ripe for food banking. RSA is the ‘breadbasket of Africa’. It has great wealth, great poverty, huge food production and substantial food waste. RSA also exports massive amounts of food to Europe, Asia and other parts of the world. GFBN was asked to see if food banking could work in South Africa, and Sally and I were brought on board as directors of the project. Initially we gathered people representing the business, government, religious, and charity sectors in Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. In each city those representatives worked together to start the food banks. The process started slowly at first and then took off. Currently, there are at least eight food banks in RSA serving both urban and rural areas. 

HCFB: Who are your food banking mentors?
TI: There are too many to mention. In food banking we share information, resources, ideas, and difficulties across the country. My mentors are executives, board members, volunteers, and also agency clients and their children who have experienced hunger far too often.

HCFB: What would you most like to see accomplished during your time with us?
TI: The purpose of my interim position is to take the lead in maintaining the high quality of service that exists at the Harry Chapin Food Bank. The Board of Directors has also asked that I assist them as they go through the process of selecting a new President and CEO. I want to do all I can to assist them in that process.

HCFB: With the holiday season approaching, how is HCFB preparing to help?
The Harry Chapin Food Bank serves families in need in Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties all year round. We do that by providing food and grocery products to more than 150 nonprofit partner agencies and agencies, which then distribute directly to those families. Just as your family and mine, families in need want to participate in the holiday traditions, which include gathering around festive tables with ample food. It is also the time of year when people of means often want to share their (our) abundance and make gifts to the food bank. It is our busiest time of the year.

HCFB: Lastly, you’ve worked in food banking for many years – do you have a special memory that particularly stands out?
TI: I have often said that it is our responsibility and privilege to work toward the time when our neighbors in need, who are served through the food bank, have both the comfort level and the resources to invite us to their table. Sally and I have been invited and it is a great pleasure to dine with these new friends. We all deserve a place at the table.

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