Eric Hodel grew up grow- ingfoodonhisfamily’sdiver- sified, central Illinois farm. Today, as the new CEO of Midwest Food Bank, Hodel is making sure hungry people can access it.
“We’ve seen an increase of people going to food pantries and soup kitchens, … a 10 to 20% increase in demand,” Hodel told FarmWeek. “We have an opportunity and privilege to feed the world with an abundance and ex- cess of food.”
Hodel started 2022 with new duties after serving the private, nonprofit charity as chief operating officer and chief financial officer since 2017. Co-founder and imme- diate past CEO, David Kie- ser, remains as president of the board.
Midwest Food Bank start- ed on Kieser’s family farm in 2003. That farm heritage continued to serve Midwest Food Bank as it grew to 10 U.S. locations, including three in Illinois, and a loca- tion in Haiti and another in East Africa. The charity maintains its basic model of providing food to now more than 2,000 nonprofit agen- cies, which distribute to those in need.
Hodel reflected on the ben- efits of hands-on learning on a corn-soybean-hay farm with an egg-laying business and sheep flock. The fam- ily farm near Metamora con- tinues with corn, soybeans, hay, purebred sheep and a seed business.
“I’m extremely thankful I had that (farm background) as an opportunity. What I learned on the farm benefited me,” he said. “It’s a great op- portunity to have my kids in- volved and to teach and train the next generation.” Hands-on learning had applications to hunger needs during the pandemic. Midwest Food Bank “learned with the pandemic that food distribution and disaster relief combined into one,” Hodel said. The charity changed everything from how food was packaged and distributed to organizing and working with volunteers.
One adaptation: A packaged family food box to sus- tain families and ease dis- tribution. Hodel gave an example of an elderly New York woman who couldn’t leave her high-rise apart- ment, so a family food box left at her door filled an im- portant need. In 2020, Mid- west Food Bank distributed food worth more than $380 million.
In addition, Midwest Food Bank partnered with USDA on its Farmers to Families Food Box program and added meat, milk and fresh ingredi- ents to boxes of shelf-stable foods.
Through that pandemic partnership, the charity learnedmoreaboutavailable USDA programs, Hodel said.
The CEO anticipates future family food boxes would be available, depending on the situation.
Meanwhile, Midwest Food Bank’s disaster relief has grown geographically through its state locations and with multiple partners.
Pandemic health and safety protocols also changed how Midwest Food Bank worked with its nearly 18,000 volun- teers in 2020. Efforts evolved from “mega groups” to small- er, more frequent openings that “give more opportunities to volunteers,” Hodel said.
“There definitely was a need,” he said.
The charity remained open as an essential business, offering people a safe place to go when schools and other institutions closed.
Hodel expects the charity will continue offering multiple opportunities for smaller volunteer sign-up system adopted during the pandemic.
For more information about Midwest Food Bank, visit midwestfoodbank.org.