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Kristen Miale recalls a pivotal moment in her career.
She was working as an investment analyst. A self-admitted geek who loves crunching numbers, she enjoyed the work and the people. But when 2008 and the recession barreled in, she was profoundly dismayed by its impact on ordinary people.
“The people who paid the price were everyday folks,” she says. “I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
She began volunteering for hunger-relief organizations. Thus began a trajectory that led to her October 2012 appointment as president of Good Shepherd Food Bank.
Her most visible accomplishment is the opening last September of a 40,000-square-foot warehouse in Hampden, a size that accommodates increased food distribution and a location chosen to better serve central, northern and eastern Maine.
With her training in business and computer science and a previous career as a financial analyst and business consultant, Miale is guiding Good Shepherd, Maine’s largest food bank, well beyond its traditional role as a food distribution organization.
Miale, a 2015 Mainebiz Woman to Watch, is an advocate for ending food insecurity. Under her leadership, Good Shepherd has increased distribution from 12 million pounds per year in 2012 to 30 million pounds today, working with a network of more than 450 nonprofits. With her leadership team, she’s shifted the sourcing model, growing fresh produce distribution from 16% to 37%; and distribution of healthy foods overall from 58% to 78%. Her hires, in areas like logistics and public policy, are creating a data-driven operation, advocating and growing organizational partnerships at all levels of government and community in order to tackle systemic issues.
The goals? By 2025, end food insecurity through access to nutritious food.
Long-term, she wants to eliminate the need for Good Shepherd itself by solving systemic issues.
“Those issues won’t be solved by 2025,” Miale says. “We need to talk about the policies that prevent people from accessing healthy food. Our partners do amazing work and fill a huge need, but nobody in the United States should have to wait in line to get a hand-out for food.”
“To see someone with that kind of talent and acumen in the business sector move over and apply those skills to the nonprofit sector — and to see the kind of track record and results she’s created over the last number of years — has just been truly impressive,” says Mike Vail, president of Hannaford Supermarkets.
Miale’s trajectory was less than obvious. Born and raised in Derry, N.H., to parents originally from South Portland, she graduated from Boston College in 1993 with a degree in computer science, then worked as a programmer for Motorola Inc. in Schaumburg, Ill.
The cubicle life was not for her. She enrolled at Boston University for an MBA and, in 2006, went to work as an investment analyst for Black Point Group, a Portland private investment partnership run by IDEXX Laboratories founder David Shaw and his son Ben Shaw. She loved the people and the work.
“I loved the analytical work,” she says. “But what I really loved was getting to know the people who founded these businesses and hearing how they created their businesses.”
She was also getting a glimpse into the world of privilege and the access that the wealthy have to investment networks. The recession was a turning point. Sure, the wealthy lost out, but they usually navigated to safe places pretty quickly. It was the lives and livelihoods of average people that were devastated.
She began thinking about how she could help the less fortunate. Still at Black Point, she volunteered for hunger relief organizations and noticed that, to a large degree, fresh and healthy foods were unavailable for distribution.
“I saw a lot of unhealthy food being given to people — a lot of soda and junk food,” she says. “Many people using food pantries were in visibly poor health.”
She began inquiring into why the organizations didn’t have healthier foods and found that they couldn’t get it or, if they could, they had trouble giving it away because recipients often didn’t know how to cook fresh foods.
So Miale, who loves to cook, started a nutritious-cooking program for low-income families and offered it at places like food pantries and homeless shelters. Looking for funds to expand the program, she came upon Cooking Matters, a program of Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger in the U.S.
“I called them, and said, ‘I want to work for you,’” she recalls. “They said, ‘We don’t have programs in Maine.’ I said, ‘Let’s start a program in Maine.’”
For a while, that led nowhere. Miale kept calling.
“I’d say, ‘It’s me again,’” she says. “Then one time I called and they said, ‘We were just talking about you. We got a grant to start a program from scratch. You should apply.’”
She needed to apply as part of an established organization. So she got Good Shepherd and Hannaford to back her on the application. In 2010, she started Cooking Matters Maine as a Good Shepherd program.
“I think Kristen is one of those people you can’t say ‘no’ to,” notes Vail. “It’s a little like Mother Theresa or your mother. She asks, and you want to meet her standards. She’s constantly raising the bar in terms of being appreciative on the one hand and then helping everyone to understand the need to move us forward as a community.”
Good Shepherd was struggling with the recession, increasing need and decreasing donations. An interim president accepted Miale’s offer to build a cash flow forecast and strategic plan. Then Good Shepherd hired her as its permanent president.
“I fell in love with the business of the food bank,” she says. “It became clear what we needed to do. First and foremost, we had to change the focus to nutrition.”
From the outset, she aimed to shift the sourcing model. The food bank was accustomed to taking all donations and making sure they were distributed. Generous donations of things like ice cream and soda regularly came in.
Miale aimed to eliminate unhealthy foods and build the nutrition program as a key element to eliminate hunger and empower the disadvantaged. Existing partners, like Hannaford and Wal-Mart, agreed. Hannaford rolled out a “fresh rescue” program, setting aside things like fresh produce, dairy and proteins about to expire or imperfectly packaged. Miale instituted data collection systems that tracked donations and hired experts in things like logistics.
“You can be grassroots when you’re small,” she says. “But the food bank had to become a logistics business.”
Since then, her accomplishments include growing overall distribution and shifting to healthy foods. She helped complete a $5 million Food For All capital campaign, which exceeded the target donation amount and was funded by more than 900 donors. The new Hampden distribution center allows Good Shepherd to increase purchases from over 75 local farmers and vendors by 60%, sourcing 2.1 million pounds of fresh foods and funneling $770,000 into Maine’s agricultural economy.
“The biggest thing Kristen and the leadership around her have done is transform the way we look at food for our most vulnerable populations,” says Victoria Rogers, senior director of Let’s Go! at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland and a Good Shepherd Food Bank board member. “Kristen said, ‘If we’re going to be working with vulnerable populations, let’s give them their best shot to succeed. That’s filling their stomachs not just with food, but with healthy food.”
“We’re saying that we’re in the business of ending hunger today and shortening the lines tomorrow,” Miale says. “We have an amazing team at the Food Bank but it’s not just us. There’s a large group of partners on this path together. “