Today we’d like to introduce you to Rob Williams.
Rob, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I started Every Meal in 2010 because a principal said there were kids in her northeast Minneapolis elementary school who didn’t have enough to eat on the weekend. She said the kids were sneaking extra food from the lunch line on Fridays, they were having behavior issues leading up to the weekends, and they were sluggish on Mondays until they got some nutrition in their system from school meals. The principal asked a question I still hear over and over from other schools: “Is there anything you can do to help the kids in my school?”
At the time, I worked for a Fortune-500 global logistics company and I started Every Meal as a volunteer, beginning with 27 kids in kindergarten at Sheridan Elementary School. We took the approach of viewing food insecurity not as a supply problem, but as a distribution problem. Meaning – we have plenty of food in this community/state/region, but the problem is that it’s not in the homes and bellies of all the kids that need it. In order to serve more kids in more schools, I left my corporate job with the promise of a paycheck of $20k a year with no benefits whatsoever. Now we serve kids across Minnesota in 600 locations and last year provided over 2.5 million meals to Minnesota children.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Smooth?!? No way. Let’s just say I had a head of hair before starting Every Meal and now I’m bald at age 36.
But seriously, I was a logistics guy with an idea. I wasn’t a non-profit leader. All of a sudden I became one, and I had to navigate leadership challenges, handle rapid growth, figure out nonprofit politics and finances, and much more. The key to my success – sure it had some to do with me – was the people that I was able to surround myself with. Key advisors, cheerleaders, people to provide blunt feedback and tell me my idea is stupid, etc. Without those people, and then excellent staff who can do their jobs better than I can, Every Meal would not have been successful.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
Every Meal is a response to a need we hear over and over – kids not having enough food to eat during food gaps. We define food gaps as periods of times when kids don’t have access to the meal programs typically available through their school: weekends, summers, and extended breaks. In 10 years we have grown from serving 5,000 meals a year to kids in one Minnesota school to now serving over 2.3 million meals in over 600 locations in Minnesota. We focus on providing good food, which we define as nutritious, delicious, and relevant. We have a registered dietician on staff and taste test all of our food – 99.5% of which we purchase. We have five types of meal bags for different cultural and situational preferences and a total of over 25 different menus. Everything we do at Every Meal is through the lens of: “What’s best for the kids.” We continue to increase our impact – both quality and quantity – throughout Minnesota.
Can you talk to us a bit about happiness and what makes you happy?
Besides my wife, kids, family, and friends, what makes me happy is helping people. When I was fresh out of college, someone asked me: “If you could do anything and get paid for it, what would you do?” My answer: “Drive around and help people.” Every Meal is sort of a manifestation of that desire. I’m not the one driving our food to the delivery destination, but Every Meal exists to help the kids and families in the community.
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