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October 7, 2013 Gloria McAdam

McAdam builds a legacy trying to feed, comfort the hungry

Photo | Pablo Robles
Photo | Contributed

In 1982, Foodshare began as a small coalition of 20 to 25 local pantries and shelters working to combat hunger in Greater Hartford by warehousing and distributing food donations. Today, the organization serves as the food bank for all of Hartford and Tolland counties, distributing 16 tons of food per day to a network of 300 local partners.

Foodshare's tremendous growth has flourished through the efforts of many individuals; but current president and CEO Gloria McAdam gets praise for a lot of the organization's recent success.

“First and foremost, Gloria is a very effective business leader,” says Greg Garger, board chair for Foodshare. “When you look at the increase in food distributed, the impact on the community, and the impact on the hunger conversation, Foodshare's growth is Gloria's growth.”

Having served as a board member since 2004, Garger credits McAdam with the ability to adapt to a changing marketplace.

“Food providers are becoming more efficient, leaving less overage, so we need to be more thoughtful on how we go to market,” he says. “Gloria is just the type of focused, driven leader you want in place. She looks at the entirety of the problem to see what we can do to best advance the mission, and engages her team in innovation to see what works most effectively.”

For McAdam, who has been with the organization for 29 years, Foodshare is a place where she can blend her passions with her professional abilities.

“I am in a role where I can use my core skills — management, organization, communication — to address this issue,” she says, adding that it is children suffering from hunger who keep her going. “My real passion is child welfare. That's what keeps me motivated all of these years.”

A mother and grandmother herself, McAdam says that by understanding the struggles of parents, Foodshare can help care for their children.

“There are parents out there who have to decide whether to pay the rent or feed their kids. People have to face these horrible decisions,” she says. “The school systems are the largest provider of free food to kids. To make sure those who need it get it, we try to identify the gaps. For example, is there a transportation barrier? Even though a kid is eligible for free breakfast, can he not get there in time because of his bus schedule?”

To encourage this cause, McAdam worked to establish Hunger Action Teams within communities in the region.

Bringing representatives from town government, businesses, schools, and other local organizations together, the teams work to identify gaps in their own community and how to best address their particular challenges.

“Hunger Action Teams have been in place for four years, and have been very effective,” says Garger. “We are getting more volunteers to engage in their community, which has an impact.”

Beginning five years ago, McAdam and her team also worked to spread awareness of The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal program formerly known as food stamps.

“We realized that up to one third of the families who were eligible for help were not signed up for the program. So, we formed a volunteer outreach effort to bring those people in,” she says. “In the last five years, we have brought the participation percentage of eligible families up from 65 percent to 82 percent. Our goal is to reach 90 percent.”

Cheryl Chase, an honorary Foodshare board member, says getting the word out about programs and benefits is critical in the effort to end hunger.

“The education component is important. The majority of people who need Foodshare services are those with a short-term need — six months or less — because of layoffs or hardship,” she says. “Foodshare is a real safety net for people who have to choose between food or heating their home.”

Having spent 10 years on the board, Chase has seen the impact McAdam has had on her organization.

“She advocates at the state and federal level, and works nationally with other organizations,” she says. “She has put a face to the problem and has put the issue in front of tens of millions of people.”

Chase adds that McAdam's efforts can be felt in a very tangible way on a local level.

“She oversaw two capital campaigns to build new facilities big enough to handle the amount of food they need to handle, and made it a goal to get a refrigerated truck to deliver food to those who can't make it to pantries.”

McAdam said it is important to focus on both the short term and long term needs of the hungry, and perhaps most critically, determine the root problem.

“I first joined Foodshare after I had been on two mission trips to Appalachia, helping to build homes for those who needed them,” she says. “It solidified for me the notion that hunger is a symptom of the underlying issue of poverty.”

When asked where she believes improvement is needed, McAdam gives one answer: jobs.

“There is a lot of talk about job creation, but the majority of those jobs are lower class jobs. The jobs being lost are those in the middle class,” she says. “Low income people tend to have more medical bills and incidents of bankruptcy. When it comes to problems with jobs and healthcare, the underlying issue is poverty.”

By combatting poverty and caring for the youngest among us, McAdam believes Foodshare is making strides in the right direction.

“Feeding kids healthy foods is the best thing we can do. They grow better, and are more able to pay attention and learn in school,” she said.

Planning for the long term is another of McAdam's strengths, according to Chase.

“She aims to set people up for a lifetime of self-sufficiency,” Chase says. “She has a real desire to solve problems and to end hunger — not just put a band-aid on it.”

It would seem McAdam's dedication is infectious even within her own household.

Her youngest son has already been on four mission trips, including two in Alabama and New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

With such widespread positive influence, McAdam, says Chase, is the real deal.

“She's not just talking. Gloria walks the walk,” Chase said.

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