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Leading Change: A blog series celebrating Kristen Miale

Just as increasing access to nutritious food in Maine will be remembered as a legacy of longtime President Kristen Miale, so too will be a dramatic scaling of organizational resources to meet a bold goal of closing Maine’s meal gap. 

In 2015, Good Shepherd Food Bank reached the end of a three-year strategic plan that addressed the dramatic growth of hunger in Maine resulting from the Great Recession. In the initial years of Kristen’s leadership, from 2012 to 2015, the Food Bank grew the number of meals distributed by 83 percent, but while the rest of the country started to see food insecurity rates decline, Maine’s rate held steady. As a result, Maine scaled the list of states with the highest rates of food insecurity and landed at sixth worst in the country from its previous ranking of 20th.  

Reckoning with this moment of increased need and downstream negative impacts on health, educational outcomes, childhood development, and more, Kristen led a comprehensive strategic planning process to help orient Maine’s charitable food network around moonshot thinking. Instead of responding to an evolving hunger crisis based on resources on hand, Kristen began to ask, “What do we need to do to make sure everyone has access to the healthy food they need, and what resources are needed to support that work?”  

This proactive, solution-oriented mindset led the Food Bank to establish a 10-year strategic plan anchored on a bold goal that has continued to evolve: “By 2025, all Mainers experiencing food insecurity will have access to the nutritious, culturally relevant food they need, when and where they need it. In doing so, we will help stabilize the lives of people facing hunger, reduce the impact of hunger in our state, and make Maine a stronger, more resilient place to work and live.” 

To determine how much more the Food Bank needed to grow food distribution, we turned to the measure of the meal gap, which is an estimate of how many meals are missing in Maine after considering all resources provided by earned income and state and federal benefit programs. While the number has shifted over the years, Maine’s meal gap has averaged between 30 and 36 million meals since 2015, when the Food Bank’s meal distribution was 19 million. The meal gap was directionally large enough to inform how much the organization would need to scale its work to meet the bold goal. 

Under Kristen’s leadership, Good Shepherd Food Bank was among the first food banks in the Feeding America network to align its work around closing the meal gap. This innovative approach outlined goals for sourcing and distributing more food, building the capacity of the Food Bank’s infrastructure, and supporting a network of hundreds of partners in improving access to food.  

The strategic plan also evolved to recognize that the experience of our neighbors when accessing food within the charitable food network was as important as the food itself. Improving access to food while providing a dignified, connecting, and empowering experience became central to our vision.  

Over the course of Kristen’s tenure as president, the Food Bank’s meal distribution has grown from 10.7 million meals in 2012 to averaging 30 million meals per year and is now at a scale that is commensurate with need across our state. But how we reached this point certainly wasn’t a straight-line trajectory.  

The following posts in this series celebrating Kristen’s leadership will share more about how the organization increased its own capacity to close the meal gap and how the COVID-19 pandemic stretched every inch of that capacity. 

Please join us in celebrating Kristen Miale. Leave a message of well wishes as she departs the organization on June 30, or make a gift to Good Shepherd Food Bank in her honor.