Power Players: Connecting Food And Community

Innovation is a popular business buzzword, but Danah Craft, the first paid executive director for the Georgia Food Bank Asso-ciation (GFBA), believes some of the greatest innovators are in the nonprofit sector. “There’s so much creativity and innovation in nonprofits, mostly because they have to,” she says.

“The energy and creativity of volunteers and the people who work in nonprofits are what drive me.”

Those same characteristics were reasons the GFBA selected Craft to become its statewide voice. She is well respected and well connected in both corporate and nonprofit philanthropic circles. Craft is a consensus builder, an important trait in food banking.

“Food banks bring different groups of people to work together,” she says, describing a food distribution network in Rabun County that developed because two groups of people, summer residents and full-time residents, saw a need and created a solution. “They found out who needed the food, where they were and developed the distribution network,” she says.

A Birmingham, Ala., native, Craft says her passion for nonprofit work began even before she graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in education. Having worked during college for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, she happily accepted a full-time position with the organization in Mississippi after graduating.

Later she returned to Alabama, where she worked with the American Cancer Society, rising to the position of state director of education. She made a shift to the corporate side of nonprofit work, joining BellSouth Telecommuni-cations’ Corporate and External Affairs office in Birmingham.

The experience gave her valuable corporate exposure and added to her growing network in and out of the nonprofit world.

Moving to Atlanta in 1993, Craft worked for SunTrust Bank in its Atlanta Community and Govern-ment Affairs group and for the Southeastern Council of Foundations, a private membership association.

Having worked for nonprofits at every level from personal volunteering to association management, Craft knows all the nooks and crannies. “But there’s always more,” she says. “I’m always looking for new areas that inspire or interest me.”

She found such a challenge with the GFBA, a seven-member association founded in 1985. Bill Bolling, founder and executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, currently serves as the association’s chairman.

“They’ve done a great job, informally, of sharing food and best practices,” says Craft of the GFBA. “But with a 35 to 40 percent increase in need, I think they wanted to formalize and maximize their worth. There are new people at state agencies and at the legislature. It’s my role to communicate with them. And this is an issue: It’s the kind of work that resonates with people. People understand the need for food.”

Craft started her new job in January, just days before the start of the 2011 legislative session. One topic of particular interest was the proposed reinstatement of a sales tax on groceries, a move Craft views as “extremely regressive.”

“Thirty-six percent of the people who seek help [from food banks] have someone in their household working full time,” she says. “The face of hunger in Georgia is not just the homeless. Food is not a luxury expense.”

In addition to raising awareness of the work of food banks and developing relationships with folks at state agencies and in the legislature, Craft’s immediate goal is to identify the right opportunities and projects that will create maximum impact for the association and for each independent food bank.

“They each have needs specific to their community. There are reasons they operate differently.”

Georgia’s food banks, which serve all 159 counties, do more than distribute food. “Food banks and their over 2,000 partner agencies are actively involved in nourishing and building communities,” Craft says. “Food assistance is often a point of access for people needing other services. Food brings them together, but the second question is usually, ‘What else do you need?’”

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