Quest for Significance Leads to Millions of Meals for Hungry Families
One in six Americans, and one in four American children, do not have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. According to the Feeding America Map the Meal Gap study, there were more than 1.1 million Tennesseans who were food insecure in 2010.
Tom Henry, founder of Feed America First, used to throw money at social issues.He had worked in the restaurant industry for 30 years, ultimately helping to build a single restaurant into a chain of 74. By 1990, life had become somewhat comfortable for Tom and his family, yet there was still something missing in his life.
In the mid-1990s, Tom read the book “Halftime,” by Bob Buford, and came to the realization that there was a difference between success and significance.“I fell short on the significance side,” Tom said. “Up to that point, my charity involvement had been limited to writing checks, and I decided to commit something worth more than money – my time.”
He began volunteering at a Nashville hunger relief agency called Feed The Children, and found satisfaction there that he had not yet found anywhere else.“That became the best part of my week, because I felt I was doing something significant,” he said. Tom and Don Herbert, who at the time was the director of Feed The Children, became friends, and together they realized that because most hunger relief agencies were working in metropolitan areas, there was still a great need in rural areas that was hardly being met.Following that realization, Tom and Don chartered Feed America First in June of 2000 with a mission to provide food to those who feed the hungry, with a focus on rural counties and small towns.
Early on, there were many challenges. Don lost a battle with cancer and Tom left the restaurant industry.
Despite the early setbacks, Tom decided to forge ahead and continue the mission alone, and in the past 12 years, he has built Feed America First into an organization that helps feed 22,000 families each month, according to the organization’s latest agency census, taken in 2012.
Since it was founded, Feed America First has distributed more than 32 million pounds of food to a network of food pantries, soup kitchens, children’s homes, women’s shelters and other organizations involved in feeding the hungry. Feed America First operates in more than 80 counties in the Middle Tennessee region, including northern Mississippi and Alabama. Historically, Feed America First has been able to provide enough food for 12-15 meals for each dollar raised.
Last year, Feed America First distributed 4.9 million pounds of food, at a value of about $10 million, on a budget of $302,000, with only 4 full-time employees, including Tom, and one part-time employee. The organization has been able to do this only through financial, in-kind, and volunteer contributions from the community.
This year, Feed America First is on track to distribute 6 million pounds of food, which will be a 20 percent increase over its best year to date.
Despite the ever-growing impact his life has had on his neighbors in need, Tom remains humble and feels like he is merely doing what every good neighbor should do.
“Hunger will cease to be a problem in America when we refuse to let our neighbors go hungry,” Tom says.
More About This Charity
Hunger and Poverty Relief
Feed America First
To provide food to those who feed the hungry.
- This Achievement raised $1.73 million
- 32 million pounds of food donated and distributed among Middle Tennessee’s families in need.
- 447,000 people were helped by this achievement