Val Traore was recently named “Heroine of the Year” by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) South Jersey Chapter. CCW spoke with Val about her heroic efforts on behalf of the 170,000 men, women and children in South Jersey who are going hungry. Tell us about your background. How long have you been collecting food for the hungry?
My career in nonprofit leadership spans almost 25 years. I came to the South Jersey area about six years ago by way of Baltimore, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and New York. In each of those cities, I worked for nonprofits that addressed social issues such as hunger and malnutrition, affordable housing, healthcare and illiteracy. What or who is your greatest inspiration?
My grandmother, Lottie Shaw, is my greatest inspiration. She was not an educated or professional woman, but she taught me more than any degree or professional training did. She was strong in character and resolve despite the many adversities that encircled her life. One of the greatest lessons she taught me was that self-pity should last no more than 30 minutes and at the 31st minute start fixing your problem. “It’s like a rocking chair,” she would say, “it gives you something to do, but it won’t take you anywhere.”What does it take to successfully run and manage the Food Bank of South Jersey?
A lot…but most importantly, a strong resolve to make a difference and to make sure your team understands that’s Job #1. If they’re not on board with that, then they don’t stay here because the work of providing food to people that are needy is not to be taken for granted. We are providing one of the most important basic needs for human existence. I take that very seriously! I understand you are a passionate follower of the “Good to Great” principles. What are those principles?
There are seven, but the one that resonates with me the most is First Who, Then What. Getting the right people on the team comes before vision, strategy and tactics. Get the right people on the bus. Get the wrong people off the bus. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not the biggest problems.What have you done to raise community awareness of the Food Bank?
We’ve taken both large and small steps to make sure people know who we are and what we do. We surround our events with a lot of press and always use them as a pulpit to fight hunger. We make ourselves available to companies, schools and civic organizations as speakers. We try to position ourselves with good feature stories to the press whenever we have a chance, so that folks out there can get an idea of what it means to struggle with food insecurity. And of course we use advertising, direct mail and branded vehicles to make sure we have a visual presence in the community.Can you tell us about the growth of the Food Bank over the past four years?
The word “exponential” best explains it. The last six years feel like we’ve been on a roller coaster that defies gravity! We increased our food distribution by 350%, financial support of our programs by 300%, our volunteer base by 125%. To add to it, our physical space will increase by 50%. We will add another 25,000 sq. ft. to our facility before the end of 2012. But unlike the for profit industry, our growth is not as celebrated because for us it means that the problem of hunger has not abated. In 2011 alone, we had to source and distribute an extra 3 million pounds of food because of a 41% increase in the number of people turning to a food pantry or soup kitchen in South Jersey. Today, over 170,000 residents in our four county area (Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem) do not know where their next meal will come from…and more than a third of that number are school age children. What is your vision for the Food Bank of South Jersey over the next four years?
Hunger is systematically rooted in poverty and until we change the social constructs that create poverty, hunger will be a persistent problem. To that end, we are working on becoming a multi-service agency that provides a myriad of services like literacy, job training, job placement, self-employment training and other programs that help people with sustainable ways to improve their lives. It’s all part of our vision to move people from “charity to prosperity.” I think we all can agree that’s a “good to great idea.” The Food Bank of South Jersey is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide an immediate solution to the urgent problem of hunger by providing food to needy people, teaching them to eat nutritiously and helping them to find sustainable ways to improve their lives. For more information, call 856-662-4884 or visit www.foodbanksj.org.As seen in: Camden County Woman (Spring 2012)