Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Thank You, Melody Wattenbarger

Melody’s unique ability to seek change, improvement and innovation positions Roadrunner as one of the leaders in food banking among the network. Melody has been involved with Feeding America for most of her food bank career. She has served on multiple Feeding America committees and is an active and supportive member, as shown through her participation in CEO networking events. Her influence can be seen in many aspects of the national network and the evolution food banks have experienced over the past 40 years. -Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America
Hunger's Hope award (2011)
In April of this year, the national organization Feeding America presented this year's Hunger's Hope award to three food bank leaders at its annual conference in San Diego. One of those leaders was Melody Wattenbarger, CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank, who was presented with the 2017 John van Hengel Fellow award. The award recognizes a food bank leader for excellence in leadership, local impact, national influence, and an entrepreneurial spirit in the area of hunger-relief. 

A Keynote Address at the End Hunger Summit
Melody will be delivering one of the keynote addresses at the End Hunger Summit in Albuquerque a week from today (Tuesday, Sept. 26).  She will be speaking at about 9:00 a.m. Below is an excerpt of her biography for the summit.
Melody Wattenbarger, President and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank, has been involved in food banking at the local, state, and regional lev-els for more than 30 years. She was the founding director of the High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo, TX from 1983-1991. She worked for Feeding America, the national food bank network, for one year monitoring food banks around the country. She then worked for United Way of Central NM until she returned to food banking in her current position in late 1995. While in Texas, she served as the first president of the Texas Association of Second Harvest Food Banks (1986-1990). Ms. Wattenbarger served as founding President of the board for the NM Association of Food Banks from 1999 to 2004. She continues to serve on the board of the NM Association of Food Banks. 
Interacting with local Bread advocates
I have known Melody for the entire time that she has served as Roadrunner Food Bank's chief executive officer. Melody twice interacted with local Bread for the World advocates over the years. Back in the 1990s, she spoke to our group at one of our meetings about the operations of the food bank. A few years later, she was the one who gave us a tour of the Roadrunner facilities.

I have watched the organization grow into a very effective and essential part of the fight against hunger in central and southern New Mexico. Melody has done a remarkable job in the effort to ensure that food is available to countless sites (food pantries, shelters, group homes, soup kitchens, low-income senior housing sites, and regional food banks)in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and many other communities. Deep down, she always had her eye on the ultimate goal, which was for our feeding operations like Roadrunner Food Bank to "go out of business."  That would mean that as a society we have succeeded in ending hunger. 

Isn't that the ultimate goal? Yet, that seems like a distant dream, partly because we have an economic system in which inequality is a given. So, as long as operations like Roadrunner Food Bank exist, they try to do the best job possible not only to distribute food to the pantries and operations that serve communities facing hunger but also to promote education, advocacy and nutrition. For example, under Melody's watch, Roadrunner initiated a food prescription program, and a demonstration kitchen.

Roadrunner Food Bank has also assisted with Feeding America's annual efforts to track hunger in New Mexico, via the annual Map the Meal Gap report. (Feeding America's report looks at food insecurity in every state--and that's how we know where we stand in relation to everyone else).

A Remarkable Legacy
In February of this year, Melody announced that she was stepping down within a year. She and her husband plan to move back to her native Texas.“She’s been an icon in the community and has been serving hungry New Mexicans for the majority of her career. We will miss Melody terribly, but she will be with us for the next year to help us through the transition,",” Roadrunner spokeswoman Sonya Warwick told  The Albuquerque Journal

The Journal, in fact, has frequently written about and quoted Melody over the years. In 2009, at the height of an economic crisis that hammered the U.S., the need for food increased significantly in New Mexico. She spoke about this to the Journal, and we used some excerpts of the article in a blog post. "I'm entering my 23rd year doing this kind of work. I have never received the kinds of calls and inquiries as I am receiving now," she told the newspaper. "For one thing, we're receiving requests for food help via e-mail, which I don't remember until the last few months that ever happening. And the e-mails are coming from places you would recognize — businesses and places that you would know, and the people who are working there need help."

Hosting Rep. Lujan Grisham

Melody and her staff are well aware that Congress plays a special role in the actions needed to end hunger in New Mexico and the rest of the country. To the extend allowed by the federal guidelines for non-profits,  Roadrunner has reached out to our congressional delegation, including Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, to expand their understanding about the needs in our community. In 2016, Rep. Lujan Grisham sponsored legislation to increase direct funding for affiliates of the Feeding America network.

"We were so grateful she took the time to come and visit and learn about how we feed hungry people throughout the state during her visit late last week," Roadrunner Food Bank said on its Facebook page after Rep. Lujan Grisham visited the food bank.

Melody is not only a competent and efficient manager, an advocate and a visionary. She has been in tune with the needs of her clients and also of everyone who works at the food bank. She showed her compassionate side in this piece she wrote for the Roadrunner blog. "We recently hired a gentleman in his 50s to work in our warehouse. You are probably thinking that is something that happens fairly regularly, and you are correct in thinking that. What made this hire so special is that the man we hired had not had regular work or a place of his own to live in for many years. Now that he works for us, he has been able to get his own place, and he is very, very grateful."  Read full post and other pieces she has written for the blog.

Melody Wattenbarger will be missed in this community.

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