Q & A With Kristen Wild, Executive Director

1. You’ve just completed your first year at OFS. What are you most proud of in that time? The team at Operation Food Search achieved A LOT in the past year. It’s hard to identify just a single accomplishment that makes me most proud, but if I had to boil it down to one word, I’d say “expansion.”

We expanded our Board of Directors, adding six new members, bringing professional skills, community involvement and a passion to eradicate hunger.

We expanded our staff . . . by eight! Each with their own skill set—whether in development, communications, policy, agency relations or nutrition education—these talented individuals completed our team and made it stronger than ever!

We expanded our programs, both new and existing. We launched new initiatives: our two fresh food prescription programs, known as Fresh Rx; our new cooking curriculum for kids, entitled Operation CHEF (Building Culinary Habits to Empower Families); our formation of the Missouri Breakfast Coalition to support Breakfast After the Bell initiatives in school districts across the state; and programs to support our network of community food partners. We also expanded existing programs: the number of sites where children can receive summer meals and afterschool “super snacks;” the activities offered through our “Food and Fun Club” to supplement the meals served during our summer program; and our nutrition education team’s expansion of sites where they offer cooking demonstrations: in our warehouse, at our partner agencies, and in the community.

  1. What do you wish people knew about OFS?

I wish more people were aware of the depth and breadth of our services. Whenever I take people on tours of OFS, the most common reaction is “I had no idea!” Most people are aware that we address an immediate need and get food in the hands of hungry children and families. Many have heard of one of our signature programs, Operation Backpack, and are familiar with our focus on kids. But fewer people are aware that in addition to supplying kids with food over the weekends, we provide free meals to kids during the summer and after school, and we help school districts increase their rates of participation in free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs. Even fewer know that we have a robust nutrition education department, teaching adults and kids about how to plan, shop and prepare healthy and delicious meals that are affordable. Also lesser known is that we have a policy and advocacy department that works toward public and institutional policy changes by informing lawmakers, community leaders and the general public about issues related to food insecurity. We are working beyond immediate food assistance to address the root causes of hunger.

  1. What has surprised you the most about your work?

What has surprised me most since joining OFS one year ago is the number of partners we have. Not only do we have 200 community food sites to which we distribute food (and they, in turn, distribute to 200,000 people monthly), we have partnerships with 72 school districts, many independent schools, city and county libraries and nonprofits across the region to deliver our out-of-school meal programs. We partner with many nonprofits and schools to provide our cooking courses and nutrition education. We partner with elected officials to impact policies surrounding food access. We partner with companies, schools, media outlets, families and community groups which conduct food drives, fund drives, personal care item drives and coat drives and/or offer volunteer work at OFS. We partner with hospitals and other health institutions to implement our “food as medicine” programs. We partner with more than 100 restaurants which raise funds and awareness for OFS through a variety of campaigns. We partner with the region’s locally-owned grocery stores, many food establishments and various companies to ensure that perfectly edible food lands on families’ tables instead of in the landfill. And we partner with hundreds of corporations, foundations, nonprofits and individuals who make financial contributions to OFS to make our work possible. I am in awe of—and so grateful for—the hundreds of partners we have in the community who recognize that food security is a social determinant of health, and who are committed to our mission of nourishing and educating our neighbors in need.

  1. What are you looking forward to in the next year?

Once again, this is a very difficult question to answer succinctly. Following are just a few of the many activities and initiatives that excite me about 2020:

  • Hosting our inaugural event, “A Feast for Change: A Farm-to-Fork Event to Strengthen our Community” on August 29
  • Launching “Healing Hunger in Our Community,” an online training module designed to create hunger-informed organizations and individuals
  • Publishing the Missouri School Breakfast Report and its accompanying website
  • Building the Sunny Day Endowment to ensure the sustainability of OFS for decades to come
  • Opening a market at Normandy High School to serve families and staff—and eventually the wider Normandy Schools Collaborative community
  • Breaking ground on a farm at Normandy High School
  • Exponentially increasing the number of participants in Fresh Rx: Nourishing Healthy Starts, so that we can facilitate even more healthy, full-term births than in 2019
  • Launching our new Change Maker app, which will enable donors to round up a few cents on purchases, making it even easier to support OFS
  • Further expanding our programs and our partnerships so that we continue to simultaneously meet the immediate need and work on upstream solutions to tackle the root causes of hunger

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