Ami L. McReynolds, Chief Programs Officer, Feeding America

Ami L. McReynolds, Chief Programs Officer, Feeding America

Ami L. McReynolds joined Feeding America in 2011 as vice president of talent and has since served as vice president of national programs, senior vice president of network development, and senior vice president of member services and special projects, a role in which she was responsible for deepening organizational understanding of member needs and performance drivers across the Feeding America network.

Earlier this month, McReynolds was named chief programs officer, responsible for leading the development and implementation of the organization's programs and strategies designed to improve access to nutritious food, with a focus on community health. With Thanksgiving around the corner, PND asked McReynolds about the challenges of managing a large national food bank network, the organization's work in rural areas, and the role of technology in addressing hunger in America.

Philanthropy News Digest: Food insecurity and demand at food banks across the United States spiked during the Great Recession. How would you describe the state of food insecurity in the U.S. today? Have things gotten better?

Ami McReynolds: We work hard every day to reduce hunger in the U.S. Sadly, there are forty million Americans facing hunger,  twelve million of whom are children. And despite an improving economy, food insecurity rates remain higher today than they were pre-recession. The Feeding America network of food banks provides more than four billion meals a year, and yet we know more needs to be done. We are working to identify ways we can help end hunger in the U.S. and are committed to innovative approaches to do so.

PND: The Feeding America network encompasses two hundred member food banks across the country. What are some of the challenges of managing such a large, geographically dispersed network?

AM: Our member food banks partner with pantry and meal service programs in their communities to reach people facing hunger in every county across the U.S., bringing a diverse blend of regional and local perspectives to our collective work. At the same time, having our members spread across the country means we have to be clear about how we engage at both the local and national levels. We work diligently with our members to understand the needs, and assets, of the rural, urban, and suburban communities they serve. And, most importantly, we make it a point to listen and consider the expertise our food banks bring to the table as we develop and implement strategies in the fight to end hunger.

PND: Feeding America partnered with C&S Wholesale Grocers in 2015 to launch the Rural Child Hunger Capacity Building Institute. How is child hunger different in rural as opposed to urban areas?

AM: Feeding America recognizes that rural areas face unique barriers to the sourcing, distribution, and access of nutritious foods. Which is why we are working to develop place-based approaches designed to help food banks serving rural communities tackle the unique barriers to food access they face, including distance, resource availability, and inadequate infrastructure. Rural communities have incredible assets, including a strong sense of community, engaged leadership, and anchor institutions that can be leveraged to increase access to nutritious food, and we are working hard to be supportive of the kinds of partnerships that are essential to enabling local solutions to the problem of hunger and food insecurity in rural areas.

Our Rural Child Hunger Capacity Institute brought together food banks to problem-solve around key barriers, and a lot of exciting approaches came out of that work, including centering programs around schools to ensure that children receive support from people they trust. As we deepen our focus in rural areas, we will continue to work to ensure that children are receiving support in a safe and familiar location and have access to the nutritious food they need to live healthy, active lives.

PND: In today's social media-driven environment, nonprofits have to compete harder than ever for attention from potential supporters and partners. How has technology changed the way Feeding America does its work?

AM: In many ways, Feeding America benefits from the power of social media, in that it allows us to share our stories of hunger with more people than ever before. We realize that the more we can connect the people we serve with kindhearted Americans, the more we can raise awareness of the issue of hunger in America. In our experience, that connection is best made by sharing the personal stories of food-insecure people, whether through videos, photos, or first-hand written accounts.

PND: How might Feeding America change the way it approaches its work in 2019, and beyond?

AM: One of the things I think you'll see  from us in the coming years is a real embrace of technology in our work. We'll be growing the capacity of tools like MealConnect, an online platform we've developed that helps connect surplus food with food banks and pantries. Our hope and expectation is that we'll be able to continue to innovate with MealConnect so that it eventually is able to directly connect a food-insecure individual to nearby food resources. I also expect we'll be taking a more human-centered design approach to our work, where we develop solutions to hunger and food insecurity by learning from and involving the people we serve in the problem-solving process. Under that approach, teams will immerse themselves in situations that people facing food insecurity typically find themselves — including their thoughts, actions, and experiences — in order to develop solutions that best meet their needs.

— Kyoko Uchida