Conversation with a Leader

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 1:00am

In July 1988, Jaynee Day joined Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee Inc. as executive director, a time at which the organization had only seven employees. Now serving as president/chief executive officer, Day oversees 50 full- and part-time employees and an annual operating budget of $12 million.

Second Harvest's MetroCenter-based distribution center contains 80,000 square feet of space and distributed more than 22 million pounds of food in 2005. Named in 2003 the nation's top food bank (out of about 210) by Americas Second Harvest, the non-profit serves 46 counties, primarily in Middle Tennessee. The state has five food banks, each with its specific service area, with Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee having the largest service area.

Day comes from a family background of community service, as her father was a United Way executive and her mother a public health nurse.

You are a veteran of Nashville's non-profit community. What is the significance of this?

My whole career has been in the non-profit field. I serve as the vice chair of the National Council of Americas Second Harvest - The Nation's Food Bank Network. This has allowed me the opportunity, both locally and nationally, to tell the story of hunger in Middle Tennessee. And it's allowed me to expose our food bank to national food industry leaders and high-profile philanthropists, as well as members of Congress.

What is your main challenge?

When I came to Second Harvest, food was very plentiful. Today, it is less plentiful. Food manufacturers in the area have come and gone, and a number of those that are still here have downsized and are much more efficient. Because of this, there is less product to donate to food banks.

How do you address this?

We've thought outside the box. We actually have an approximately 3,500-square-foot cook/chill manufacturing facility within our food bank facility. We take bulk, raw or frozen product and turn it into a shelf-stable meal.

Who does Second Harvest mainly service?

Through our Community Food Partners Program, one of seven programs we run, we distribute food, household items and personal care products to approximately 450 non-profit agencies in our 46-county service area. These are all 501C3s and are serving the needy in some way. Specifically, we recently assisted Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

Critics of Emergency Food Box Program-type services argue that providing food while asking nothing in return does recipients a disservice.

There will always be people in the community that may not agree with everything you do. However, any of us can find ourselves in a situation where we might become food-insecure. About 50 percent of the people we help have jobs, but many of those are making only minimum wage or slightly above.

So most of those you help are not homeless?

The face of hunger has changed in this country. Many of those we serve are people who have suffered unusual circumstances and need temporary help. The "face of hunger" will surprise you. I've seen people who have recently been displaced from high-paying jobs and have had to utilize our services.

Some of the people you assist are unstable and, as such, potentially dangerous. Your thoughts?

I have never been physically attacked. We have found very few individuals who have acted inappropriately when requesting food assistance.

The nature of your industry suggests there are legal considerations.

The Nashville law office of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis has been a strong supporter of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. The firm provides food drives, board participation, pro bono services and charitable donations. Regarding liability considerations, we are protected by the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. We've never been sued.

How does Second Harvest address proper nutrition?

Nutrition is a huge component of all seven of our programs. We work with local dieticians and nutritionists, who help us in meal planning, healthfulness of the food and distribution. In soliciting from both the food industry and individuals, we stress that they provide the most nutritious product possible.

In November of 1988 when you started at Second Harvest, the organization garnered local media attention when four employees, out of seven, resigned.

Any time a new manager comes in, there will be changes. In a sense, we were reorganizing Second Harvest. Yes, it was unpleasant but we've moved forward.

Are non-profits earning more respect as legitimate business entities?

We have to run our agencies likes businesses if we're going to stay in business. You have to have a broad and general knowledge about personnel, finance and fund-raising. Accountability is much greater than it was in the past.

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