To commemorate the Arkansas Foodbank’s 30th Anniversary, we are highlighting 30 people who made a difference in fighting hunger in Arkansas. These people are passionate champions for the hungry and have helped shape the Foodbank into the cornerstone of hunger relief that it is today.
The second person on our countdown of 30 Faces of Hunger Relief is Craig Willis, Senior Program Officer of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
His journey began with the Arkansas Foodbank back in 2000 when the Reynolds Foundation sponsored a study of hunger relief organizations in Arkansas and the potential for coordination of services. From the study, the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance was formed in 2004 to create a statewide, efficient, effective and equitable food distribution system.
After the Alliance was formed (photo left: Willis and Governor Beebe at the announcement), the Reynolds Foundation and Willis started working with the Arkansas Foodbank in 2005 when a planning grant was awarded.
“This was money to look at organizational structure, fundraising capability, and then get into looking at architecture, design, and what would a new food bank look like,” said Willis.
After strengthening our organization from 2005 to 2007, Willis and the Reynolds Foundation decided the Foodbank was ready for an upgrade and extended an invitation for us to apply for a capital grant for a new building.
It was a long road for then-CEO Phyllis Haynes, but well worth it.
“In about 30 seconds after they presented in Las Vegas, the board voted and we gave the Foodbank 10 million dollars,” said Willis, who was the one who got to share the good news outside the meeting room with Foodbank staffers.
So far, the Reynolds Foundation has helped six food banks with new facilities and the results have been astonishing. At the time of their applications, the total distribution of all 6 food banks was 33 million pounds. If you take the 2012 totals of all six, the total distribution is 122 million pounds.
Willis says it is bittersweet walking through the doors of the Donald W. Reynolds Distribution Center each time since its opening in May 2011. But he will be the first to tell you that the 73,000 square foot facility in Little Rock is just a tool.
“Building the new facility and providing the resources to do that is great, but without the people and without the staff and effort…the warehouse doesn’t get full, the food doesn’t go out. Without all the things that go on at the Foodbank, it is just a building. The organization is the people that are in it.”
On behalf of the Foodbank, thank you Craig Willis and the Reynolds Foundation for all of your hard work and dedication. Because of you, the Foodbank has been able to blossom and meet the needs of more Arkansans!