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Updated: October 18, 2020 C-Suite Awards 2020

Jakubowski keeps CT’s hungry fed

A vice president job at a hospital would be the pinnacle of many careers, but Jason Jakubowski found himself considering a major career change in 2017.

He was serving as vice president of external relations at Hospital for Special Care when he was approached about the job of president and CEO of Foodshare, the regional food bank for Hartford and Tolland counties.

“I had a really good job at the hospital, but I just really fell in love with Foodshare and the employees and the volunteers and the mission,” Jakubowski said. “I haven’t regretted it for one day since. It’s an amazing organization.”

Born and raised in New Britain, Jakubowski explored a career in politics after graduating from UConn with a political science degree. First elected at age 21, he served two terms on the New Britain city council and two terms as city treasurer before an eight-year stint at Charter Oak State College.

At the Hospital for Special Care, Jakubowski combined his professional duties advocating for expanded Medicaid coverage with community work. He served as board chairman for both Community Health Resources of Windsor and Leadership Greater Hartford. The Foodshare job attracted Jakubowski with the opportunity to combine his professional skills with his ideals.

“I just think Foodshare has a tremendous history but also a tremendous culture,” he said.

Founded in 1982, the organization has grown to distribute food and supplies from 60 mobile sites to 250 partner pantries across Greater Hartford, totaling 11.5 million meals a year.

As CEO, Jakubowski jumped in to expand the nonprofit’s activities to take on more anti-poverty work, including creating “Hunger Action Teams” to organize residents around issues of food insecurity.

He also helped set up the Foodshare Institute For Hunger Research & Solutions, designed to study hunger and come up with innovative programs to improve community nutrition and health. Food banks in 12 other states are currently working with the institute to improve their programs.

“Those are the types of things that 10 or 20 years ago you never saw a food bank do. The old way was just to collect as much edible product as possible and distribute it. Now it’s a much more holistic approach,” Jakubowski said. “It’s not just about distributing food anymore, it’s also about helping people out of the cycle of poverty so they don’t need to continue to rely on our services.”

Then, three years into Jakubowski’s tenure, COVID-19 hit. Demand for food in Foodshare’s service area increased overnight by 35%, even as donations and volunteers dropped off dramatically and staff members struggled to adapt to new working conditions. The agency was forced to hire part-timers to help with distribution and buy tons of food to meet the surging need.

Foodshare’s drive-through food pantry at Rentschler Field in East Hartford has served 150,000 families since the beginning of the pandemic, and delivered more than 6 million pounds of food. Cash donations have increased, but Jakubowski predicts that demand for food will remain high for at least a year due to the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

“The good news is we have never raised this much money, the bad news is that we have never spent this much money,” he said. “There are so many people that are new to food insecurity that never thought that they’d be in this situation but due to COVID, they are.”

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