Amber: Hey I’m Amber Ambrose and this is BusinessMakers USA, brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Today my guest is Paco Velez, the President & CEO of Feeding South Florida here in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. So welcome to the show Paco.
Paco: Thank you for having us.
Amber: Absolutely. So Paco tell us, what is Feeding South Florida?
Paco: Feeding South Florida in basic terms is a food bank. We get food from those who have it onto the tables of those who need it. We’re part of the Feeding America Network, one of over 200 food banks across the country; one of about 14 here in the state of Florida serving all 67 counties in the state of Florida. Our region is really Palm Beach, Broward, Miami Dade and the Keys. A lot of folks think of that as a paradise or a destination spot but there really is a lot of need here. Over 710,000 individuals struggle to put food on the table throughout the year here in South Florida.
Amber: I know you do more than just food though; you guys have many organizations that are served under the Feeding South Florida umbrella.
Paco: Right. So beyond food we help families with the federal benefit applications. We help families with SNAP – formerly food stamps, we help them with the WIC referral program, we help them with Medicaid, with Florida Kid Care – also known as CHIP or Children’s Health Insurance Program – with temporary assistance for needy families, but we also have a network of partner agencies around our four county area. It’s about 400 nonprofit organizations that really are embedded in the community and help families in their area with emergency food assistance, nutrition education, with these federal benefits as well. So it’s really a lot of little hubs around the community for families so they can access food when they need it as they run out or as they run into hard times. That’s opposed to everybody coming to the food bank and spending gas and money doing that, they can go to their local food pantry in their area.
Amber: Food is just the start; obviously if they’re coming to you for help to put food on their table they’re going to need assistance in other areas. How do you guys address that?
Paco: First and foremost folks call us and they’re asking for food assistance. Once we provide them with either a food box or a place where they can go get food immediately then we can start assessing other areas of need for them. Sometimes it’s medical supplies, sometimes it’s utilities or rent assistance and then we’ll refer them to the correct partner in order for them to receive those benefits.
Amber: Hence why you have this big network built up.
Paco: That’s exactly why we have this network but we also have this great initiative with Feeding America in our local community called Collaborating for Clients. So if folks have housing needs, education needs, health needs then we can help connect those dots for our families.
Amber: That’s great. Okay Paco, you said you rescued food; what does that mean?
Paco: So for us we live in an area where there is an abundance of food. Not the United States but especially here in South Florida where we have probably the largest agricultural growing county in the country in Palm Beach. So a lot of the food goes to waste whether it gets tilled into the soil or it just gets tossed in a landfill. We have a fleet of 17 trucks from 26 foot box trucks to 53 foot 18-wheelers and we go out into the community and we rescue food from growers, from distributers, from grocers; from really anybody that has that food. And last year we were able to rescue and distribute over 46 million pounds of food and get that onto the tables of our families who are really struggling to put that food on their own table.
Amber: There’s something that you told me you wanted to get out about the families that you serve, that people might have misconceptions about.
Paco: It’s really about families in this vicious cycle. What we see a lot is families who don’t have enough to eat or are not eating healthy and we’ve seen a correlation between healthy eating and doing well in school, healthy eating and doing well at work, healthy eating and illness or chronic disease, including some forms of cancer that can be prevented by eating a healthy diet and a lot of families don’t have that. If they continue to eat poorly or not eat at all then they run the risk of doing poorly in school, not having a better job, start that cycle all over because without a better job they can’t access better foods, so on and so forth, so the cycle continues.
So for us it’s about really helping the community understand that anybody can find themselves in an unfortunate situation and sometimes that just continues to compound on itself and when you have an issue with your car or with your job or it’s raining and you’re in construction, you can’t work, there are a lot of issues at play. And a lot of our families – most of them have jobs, they are working adults, it’s just a matter of having enough to live and survive here in South Florida. It’s the high cost of living – rent is through the roof – but minimum wage is minimum wage. So we want to help those families fill those gaps to help them continue to live here, work here and get their children educated here.
Amber: All right Paco, I know that you really love what you do. How did you get into this?
Paco: It’s an interesting way; I didn’t really realize that my calling was service until much later in life. When I was young I was an altar boy so my job was to serve the church and make sure that the mass ran smoothly in the background. I was also in customer service at Walmart and my favorite part of the job was helping customers find an item or get it off the top shelf. And so the smile on people’s faces is what drove me, what motivated me and it wasn’t until later that I realized this is my calling, is to provide service.
And it was interesting while I was in San Antonio I was playing semi-pro football, I was also working at a part time or a temporary job at Harcourt Brace, now Pearson. And this gentleman comes up to me that I didn’t know and he said I’m applying for the Executive Director position at the San Antonio Food Bank, if I get this job I’m taking you with me. I was like sure buddy, get back to work because I was his boss at the time. And so he gets hired in April of 2000, in May of 200 he calls me up and says meet me at this diner. I meet him at this diner, he pushes this job description in front of me and says can you do this? And I look at it, it was a job, sure I’ll do it. So he said meet me at the food bank tomorrow morning at 8:00.
So I get there with my suit, my little briefcase with a resume in it thinking I’m there to interview and as soon as I get there he starts introducing me to everybody as the new Director of (06.52 Agency) Relations. So I guess I got the job, he shows me my office, I sit there and now it’s time to learn what I am doing. Unfortunately he left about 9 months later and so then I was in between bosses, but along came a great mentor of mine, and still a mentor of mine, Eric Cooper, still at the San Antonio Food Bank. Taught me everything I wanted to know, needed to know, didn’t realize I needed to know about food banking and was there for 12 years. He helped me get to South Florida which was where I really wanted to be and that was 5 years ago. And so I still talk to him, he still comes over here, he still helps, he’s a great mentor of mine but food banking and making sure that families have a basic need, food on the table, is for me an amazing job.
Amber: Well thanks for what you’re doing.
Paco: No, thank you for having me.
Amber: Yeah, we appreciate it Paco. Once again this is BusinessMakers USA here in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and this is Paco Velez of Feeding South Florida and I’m Amber Ambrose. Thanks for watching.
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