Jason Reed came to Arizona from Minneapolis where he did community work with an organization called Urban Ventures. Urban Ventures is located in South Minneapolis. Their offices are on the same street where many of the protests took place after George Floyd’s death.
Reed’s work with Urban Ventures took a boots on ground approach to serving their South Minneapolis community. They built trust and understanding with their neighbors, which allowed the team at Urban Ventures to educate the community and show them opportunities for a better future.
Now, as the leader of United Food Bank, Jason Reed hopes to take that same type of approach in his work at United Food Bank. Reed also knows that United Food Bank can’t do it alone and he is excited to collaborate with other like minded organizations in Arizona to end food insecurity in our state.
“There is more than enough food available for us to be able to meet the demand we are seeing day to day. The puzzle that we have to solve is how do we connect all of the supply that is out there to the demand we see across Arizona.”
– Jason Reed, CEO, United Food Bank
Jason Reed, the new CEO at United Food Bank, talks about his vision for the organization.
This article has been edited from the original interview for content, length and clarity.
Where are you originally from and what was growing up like for you?
I am originally from Minnesota, which for half of the year it is a snow covered tundra of the North.
I grew up in a working class family. My father inspected machine parts at a local manufacturer, my mother was an immigrant from South Korea. She worked in a mail room for a big company in Minneapolis.
We were fortunate enough to live in a good neighborhood southeast of Minneapolis called, Bloomington. It was a great place to grow up. We had snowball fights, built snow forts and went sledding all the time; but those were not the only great things about our community. I think a really important aspect of my neighborhood in Bloomington was that there was a lot of economic connectedness.
When you look a little deeper at the socioeconomic numbers in Bloomington you will see there are people from a range of different economic classes. I grew up with kids in the same economic class as me, but I also had friends whose parents went to college and held more “white collar” type of jobs. Fortunately for me, I was exposed to that culture of success in my own neighborhood and it became easy for me to see a path to my own successful career as an adult.
There is a lot of research that shows where you grow up is one of the greatest determiners of your economic success as an adult. Seeing other people around me succeed in life when I was younger had a big role in who I am today as an adult.
Even though you were surrounded by great role models in your neighborhood was there anything that you struggled with while you were growing up?
I think one thing that sticks out in my memory from childhood is how hard it was for me to learn on an empty stomach. There were times in school when I can remember looking at the clock and wondering when lunch was going to appear. It made it difficult for me to learn when all I was thinking about was when is lunchtime.
During difficult times, when you get knocked down. How do you push yourself to get back up and keep pushing your mission forward?
I think you have to find resilience in yourself over time. Every time you get knocked down there is an opportunity to learn from your mistake.
It is in those moments when you are feeling vulnerable and you may not think you are up for a specific challenge, that is when I think you discover your inner resilience. You have to stop and think, What is here and what is possible for you to achieve, and then move towards that goal. I think that is where you find your victories.
What fuels your organization’s commitment to social transformation in Arizona?
What are some of the trends you are seeing and how can United Food Bank work to change those trends?
In Arizona, there are millions of people who are food insecure. It is a big challenge and it looks different in every community. The needs of the community in Mesa are different than the needs of our clients in Tempe. Another big issue we face is the ability to access affordable food at the grocery store because inflation is so high right now.
Something I think is encouraging for us is that I know there is more than enough food available for us to be able to meet the demand we are seeing day to day. The puzzle that we have to solve is how do we connect all of the supply that is out there to the demand we see across Arizona. I see it as a big opportunity to use collaboration as a means to impact change in our community.
One partnership that has been really beneficial for us at United Food Bank is the work we do with grocery stores in the area. We have partnered with various grocers to take the food that they did not sell and would otherwise end up getting thrown away. Our drivers pick up the food from the grocery stores every day and deliver it to our hunger relief network.
I think there could be ways for us to work with our local farmers. They normally grow more crops than their contracts require. How do we work with them to compensate them fairly while being able to rescue the unused food and get it out to our partner organizations in the community?
Or, how can we partner with hospitals so that they can make sure their patients are getting the proper food prescriptions to help them manage their conditions?
All of these ideas can be possible. There is plenty of food out there. Our job at United Food Bank is to figure out how to match the supply of food with the demand in our communities.
What do you look for when you are finding partner organizations to collaborate with on your mission to end food insecurity?
When I am looking for people and organizations to collaborate with I like to think of it as if it were a friendship. The qualities that you find in a good friendship are the same ones that I look for when I am seeking out partner organizations. You want to trust your friends, you want to know they will be there for you when you need them, and vice versa.
As I look for partner organizations I am looking for that same kind of reciprocal value you find in a good friendship. To put it in a business context, when we think of a corporate partner they have certain objectives that they want to achieve, and so does United Food Bank.
If we can offer a great volunteer experience for any given potential partner organization, then they may be more willing to offer their time, intellectual talents, or money to our organization. Reciprocal shared value relationships are the kind of collaborations I like to look for when it comes to fighting hunger in our state.
If you would like more information on United Food Bank visit their website https://www.unitedfoodbank.org/