Insight & Analysis

Community Voices: Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, Feeding America

Published: May 2020

To establish best practice and help our community to learn from each other’s experiences, we have launched a new series: Community Voices. The Treasury Today Group, along with our series partner, Association of Corporate Treasurers Singapore (ACTS), have reached out to corporates across the world to hear how COVID-19 is affecting their roles as treasury practitioners.

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot

Feeding America

As CEO of Feeding America, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot oversees the US’s largest domestic hunger-relief organisation and second largest US charity according to Forbes. Previously she held key leadership roles at Walmart, culminating in Executive VP of Finance and Treasurer. Prior to that she was Partner-in-Charge of the Baton Rouge office and Tax Practice Leader for Adams and Reese LLP. She has also held various posts at PwC, including Dispute Resolution Practice Group Leader for the Southwest.

Babineaux-Fontenot holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Louisiana; a Juris Doctor from Southern University Law Center; and a Master of Laws in Taxation from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

About Feeding America

Feeding America is the largest hunger-relief organisation in the US. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programmes, it provides meals to more than 46 million people each year. Feeding America also supports programmes that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people it serves; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending hunger.

Could you tell us about your journey from Global Treasurer of Walmart to your current role as CEO at Feeding America?

My journey from Walmart to Feeding America began unexpectedly when I learned that I had breast cancer. Although my prognosis was good and my treatments successful, the experience made me think deeply about what I wanted my legacy to be. I’d built a successful career in law and corporate finance, raised children of whom I am deeply proud, and achieved goals that probably seemed quite lofty for a girl from rural Louisiana, and I knew my next move was going to be to an organisation where I could make an impact.

As CEO of Feeding America, I naturally draw on my professional expertise in leadership, finance, accounting and law. But I believe that my unique value to this organisation is my commitment to people — the people who are employed across the Feeding America network, the people who seek help from our member food banks, the people who volunteer, donate, and who deeply care about our mission to end hunger, and the people who don’t yet know that hunger exists in their communities.

People are our priority at Feeding America. We strive every day to live our values of equity, diversity and inclusion by creating a culture where everyone can thrive and by keeping the interest and the dignity of every hungry person at the centre of all we do. Through this empathy-driven, people-centric lens, we’ve become an organisation that more closely represents the people we serve and we are developing programmes that not only fill people’s immediate need for food assistance, but also works to support their journey to a more self-sufficient and food-secure future.

In recent statements you have explained how COVID-19 has deeply impacted Feeding America and the work that you do. How have you responded?

Across the globe, there are more than 820 million people who face hunger, and we know that during crises like natural disasters or economic downturns, they are often the populations that are most deeply affected. Before the US economy shutdown and more than 26.5 million people lost jobs, there were already 37 million people who didn’t have enough to eat. As more people struggle to make ends meet, our network of 200 food banks across the country are seeing an average 70% increase in their communities’ need for food assistance. At the same time, we are experiencing shortages across our supply chain, which means food banks are depleting their inventories faster than they can replenish them.

Although this has been an acute problem in recent weeks, we’ve long anticipated that trends affecting the food industry, such as technology and zero-waste initiatives, would also impact our operating model. Finding new sources of food, engaging new partners, and developing new ways to work with existing supply chain and government partners, is the backbone of our strategic plan. This pre-work is helping us leverage relationships in ways that can help us acquire the food needed by the millions of people we serve. Most recently, one of our long-standing food donors has deployed not only their manufacturing capacity to produce food specifically for the purpose of donation, but they have also deployed their furloughed employees to help at their local Feeding America food bank. This pandemic has changed everyone’s circumstances dramatically. It’s up to us to adapt, and we will, because millions of families are counting on us.

What have you learnt personally and professionally from events of the past two months?

Over the past two months, I have been continually reminded of the determination we possess as a society and the willingness of people to come together in a crisis, even in this one that literally separates us from one another. Every day, we hear stories about staff at our food banks inventing new ways of providing food while protecting themselves and their neighbours, and of local businesses stepping up to offer their properties as a location to store and distribute food. People are volunteering to deliver boxes of food to isolated families, and we’ve received an unprecedented level of support from our donors that will help sustain our response to families seeking assistance for as long as it’s needed. And although I am not surprised by this outpouring of support we’ve received from all corners of America, I am moved by how deeply people feel compelled to help strangers across the country as much as the people in their own communities.

How can our community support organisations like Feeding America at this time and beyond?

The best way to support people in need in the US and around the globe is to support the organisations that are working tirelessly to provide them with food, shelter, health care and income support. During a crisis, the most effective way to do that is to donate money which allows those organisations the flexibility to meet the needs of the people they serve most effectively. In the US, people can visit to contribute to Feeding America’s COVID-19 Relief Fund and support the work of 200 food banks that provide food to more than 40 million people in the country. To help feed people facing hunger around the world, people should contact The Global Foodbanking Network to find out how to help during this crisis.

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