Food Bank Helps Others, But Also Teaches Key Skills

Charles Elmore
Palm Beach Post

An organization that figures it is Palm Beach County’s biggest food bank is celebrating its 35th anniversary in the region, but Sari Vatske says goals extend beyond numbers — like serving 33 million meals a year.

At the non-profit Feeding South Florida, the ultimate target includes making the county hunger-free through education and innovation to promote self-sufficiency, said Vatske, vice president of community relations. Clients get classes in nutrition, cooking and financial literacy, for example.

It’s the sort of mission that calls for a host of skills including an efficient grip on logistics, she said.

“It’s fast-paced and teaches process improvement, teamwork, communication, and most of all, it provides the most basic of needs for our neighbors in need of assistance,” she said.

The group’s Palm Beach County operations are currently based in West Palm Beach, but it is developing a 25,644 square foot facility near I-95 and Gateway Boulevard in Boynton Beach.

“This new facility will help us make a greater impact on the lives of those facing hunger and poverty in Palm Beach County,” said Feeding South Florida President and CEO Paco Velez.

Directly and through partners, the group says it serves 202,110 county residents, including 63,660 children.

Name: Sari Vatske

Age: 34

Hometown: Merrick, NY

Where you live now: Delray Beach

About your organization: Feeding South Florida is the leading domestic hunger-relief organization serving Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties. We are the sole Feeding America food bank serving the region and largest and most efficient food bank in each county we serve. Through direct service programs and a network of approximately 360 partner agencies, we rescue and distribute more than 33 million meals (40 million pounds) of food annually to 785,040 individuals — more than 280,000 of whom are children — struggling to put food on the table.

How your organization has changed? In addition to increasing our efficiency and output over the past four years, Feeding South Florida has also taken a broader approach to the issue of hunger and poverty in South Florida. For us, providing food is just the food step towards breaking the cycle; it’s also about innovative programming and education for our families that will put them on a path to self-sufficiency.

First paying job and what you learned from it: My first job was in housewares at Linen N’ Things. I learned about customer service, inventory, and that people have different strengths, all of which makes a team so important.

First break in the business: Although I worked in hunger-relief prior to joining Feeding South Florida, it definitely seems that making a career at the food bank opened my eyes to so much: not just hunger-relief in general, but also logistics, innovation, teamwork, efficiency, collaboration, and community impact. I’m incredibly fortunate that I have the opportunity to work for such a forward-thinking and impactful organization.

Best business book you ever read: “Our Iceberg is Melting” by John Kotter.

Best piece of business advice you ever received: Stick with it. The day you think you want to give up, give it another day.

What you tell young people about your field: Food banking is a mindset and way of thinking. It’s a foundation for so many critical skills that translate across many sectors. It is unique in the sense that it’s a nonprofit with a for-profit operations and logistics component. It’s fast-paced and teaches process improvement, teamwork, communication, and most of all, it provides the most basic of needs for our neighbors in need of assistance. If young people are looking for a rewarding challenge and a place where they will be vital to the success of an organization, but also feel incredible about their work, learn a lot, and be part of a family, then food banking is for them. Regardless of whether it’s food banking or another cause close to someone’s heart, one must always have service in mind. No matter what you do, do it with compassion, integrity, and give it your all — people deserve that.

What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? Palm Beach County will be hunger-free through food access and innovative programming that’s designed to help families transition to self-sufficiency through education, workforce development, and a solid infrastructure that provides for all people from different walks of life, across all socio-economic statuses.

Where we can find you when you are not at the office: Driving to the office? In all seriousness, outside somewhere with my three rescue dogs.

Favorite smartphone app: Lumosity — I love routing those trains!

What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Gumption. Food banking is all about service, resourcefulness and innovation at a fast pace. If someone has the drive and energy, we can teach them the rest.

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