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Ron Karp of Forestville’s Food for Thought wins a North Bay Business Journal Nonprofit Leadership Award

Ron Karp

Executive Director

Food For Thought

6550 Railroad Ave. Forestville 95436

707-887-1647

www.FFTfoodbank.org

Professional background: Nonprofit leadership

Education: Georgia Institute of Technology, Bachelor of Science degree in information and computer science

Number of staff: 29

Describe your organization: Food For Thought is a countywide nonprofit organization based in Forestville that provides healing food and nutrition services to more than 1,000 Sonoma County residents who are affected by serious illnesses and are at risk for malnutrition.

Comprehensive nutrition services include healthy groceries (enough for 21 meals per week), prepared meals, nutrition counseling and hands-on healthy cooking classes. Food For Thought’s services increase the health of clients, reduce food insecurity, decrease costs to the health care system and improve the lives of thousands of individuals living in Sonoma County.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I grew up in Atlanta and pursued my interest in computers by getting a degree in computer science at Georgia Institute of Technology.

After graduation, I helped my father computerize his large wholesale business in Atlanta. I had fond memories of San Francisco and California from a family trip as a kid, and that along with career opportunities led me to move to San Francisco in my mid-twenties.

In addition to my career, I was also interested in environmental causes and volunteered for several nonprofit environmental groups. One of my volunteer activities was organizing retreats, and this eventually led me to change careers and move to Ocean Song Farm & Wilderness Center in Occidental, where I became executive director. Five years later I took the executive director position at Food For Thought.

I have always had a passion for learning new things, and a commitment to quality work. While at Ocean Song I learned how to grow food, and I had a ½ acre garden full of vegetables, berries, and 15 fruit and citrus trees. I also have a love of music and have played horn and keyboard my whole life.

What is your role in the organization?

Executive Director

How has your organization been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Very early in the pandemic we had to make major changes in our operations and activities. We cancelled our regular food drives at grocery stores to protect our volunteers and shoppers, and postponed our gala event scheduled for June.

In late March, we made the decision that it would be too risky to use volunteers in our facility and kitchen, and began serving our walk-in clients from their cars in the parking lot. We hired temporary staff to fill in for the volunteers who worked in our facility and kitchen. As the pandemic worsened, we cancelled many small events and decided to make our largest two events virtual.

The impact to our income was expected to be close to $500,000, and the added staff in the facility and kitchen cost about $25,000 per month.

Fortunately, we were able to make up for most of the increased expenses and loss of income with a PPP loan, foundation grants, county emergency funds and very generous support from our donors. Despite this support, we are still in critical need of funding to continue our services in the coming months.

What are the ways your organization responded to increased demands for services, and fiscally, in what has your organization been forced to adjust?

To meet the increased need, we made substantial changes to increase the efficiency of our order processing and delivery systems. We had to reduce the amount of food choice offered to clients so that orders could be assembled quickly and allow us to serve more people.

We also had to cancel our in-person congregate lunch program and group cooking classes, though we are still offering lunch items via curbside pickup or delivery, and offering phone and online nutrition education.

What achievement are you most proud of?

In May, the Public Health Department asked us to serve a family of eight who had all tested positive for COVID-19.

We decided to serve the family, even though FFT did not have a program that fit this need. After fully understanding what this family was experiencing, we decided to create the COVID-19 Nutrition Program to serve county residents who test positive for COVID-19 and are at risk of malnutrition.

With so many residents testing positive, this program has now served over 1,000 people, with the vast majority being Latinx. This is an amazing service that provides not only nutritious food, but necessities such as diapers, hand sanitizer, masks and toilet paper. We’re helping to serve a community that has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The program also helps ensure the safety of the wider community by enabling these families to quarantine while infected.

Ron Karp

Executive Director

Food For Thought

6550 Railroad Ave. Forestville 95436

707-887-1647

www.FFTfoodbank.org

What is your biggest challenge today?

Although we have always served the entire county of Sonoma, the perception of most people is that Food For Thought serves just the west county.

What is the next major project either under way or on the horizon?

We are outgrowing our Forestville facility due to the increasing need for the type of services we provide. A growing body of evidence shows that the “food as medicine” services we provide increase health and dramatically lower health care costs.

We are putting plans in place to further expand our services and open an additional facility in Santa Rosa.

What product or service would/or is helping you do your job more effectively?

Technology has allowed Food For Thought to keep up with a more complex regulatory environment and the need for data about the quality and effectiveness of our services. We are always looking for ways to better utilize technology and upgrade our software systems.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

Within five years, I believe there will be much greater acceptance of the importance of food in the management and prevention of illness, and integration between health care and medically tailored food services like Food For Thought.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Ron Rubin

QUICK TAKES

Current reading: With the challenges of the pandemic and the election season, my reading has focused on health disparities, learning to live with and operate a business in the COVID environment, and the importance of politics in the health care and nutrition arena.

Most want to meet: Paul Hawken

Stress relievers: Playing music and being outside

Favorite hobbies: Music, hiking

Social media you most use: I have a Facebook account, which is a great way for Food For Thought to get the word out.

Buzz word from your industry you dislike the most: Sustainability

Typical day at the office: I arrive with a to-do list that I prepared in advance, and numerous unexpected tasks and problems end up being more important than the items on my to do list.

Best place to work outside of the office: The Food For Thought garden.

Words that best describe you: Honest, dependable, caring

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