As Morgan Stanley looks back on a decade of partnering with Feeding America, employees share their stories of volunteering at food banks served by the nationwide organization dedicated to hunger relief.
Everything's bigger in Texas, it's said. That includes the 308,000-square-foot Houston Food Bank, the largest in the U.S., and its platoons of volunteers who collect, prepare and distribute food to 18 local counties, supplying meals for some 800,000 people locally every year.
Matt Kabot has seen first-hand the enormity of that task. A Managing Director and Houston Complex Manager with Morgan Stanley’s Wealth Management division, Kabot has volunteered at the food bank for 15 years, the past 10 through Morgan Stanley’s partnership with Feeding America. On a recent visit, he and his team of co-workers diced bacon for a soup and sliced watermelon on the side. By day’s end, “we had cut up enough watermelon and bacon for 13,000 meals,” he says. “The scope of this initiative to help combat food insecurity throughout our community—it’s just amazing.”
It’s but one example of the immense challenge of feeding millions of food-insecure families across the country, the core mission of Feeding America. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Morgan Stanley’s partnership with Feeding America and it’s network of over 200 food banks. Like Matt Kabot, thousands of the firm’s employees from offices across the country have volunteered with the organization and its local food banks over the last decade, amounting to over 108,000 hours of service. The firm has also provided more than $23 million in grants to underwrite over 211 million meals through 117 affiliated food banks.
In 2019 alone, the Morgan Stanley Foundation granted $1.85 million to Feeding America, earmarking $1 million for local food banks in 21 cities, many of which are creating new child nutrition programs or bolstering programs that already exist. Other food bank grant recipients are working to introduce more fresh fruits and vegetables as an alternative to canned food.
We cherish the long-term commitment that has developed through our partnership with Feeding America
Fresh food and produce are priorities at the Lowcountry Food Bank in Charleston, SC, where Martha McNeil, a Wealth Management First Vice President and Branch Manager, has been volunteering for nine years. Most recently, her focus has been on the “Fresh for All” program, which offers people fresh produce as an alternative to the canned goods that food banks traditionally distribute. “By letting people choose their own fresh food, we are empowering them to make healthy choices. We’re giving them a way out of hunger, but also their dignity,” says McNeil.
McNeil’s volunteering at the food bank, which serves 10 counties, started out modestly. “I was literally wiping cans. I was new in town and it was a way for me to get to know my co-workers as we volunteered side by side,” she says. But within a year, she had become so involved that she was asked to serve on the board of directors, where she did everything from spearheading an initiative to collect a ton of canned tuna to organizing a book reading for children dealing with food insecurity.
As part of her long-term dedication to her local food bank, McNeil has also witnessed firsthand how much the organization’s mission has expanded. In addition to feeding kids at school during the academic year, for example, the food bank has enlisted “bus drivers, church people, hairdressers” to bring food to children during the summer break.
“Since its inception, Feeding America has continued to evolve to meet the changing landscape and scope of food insecurity,” says Joan Steinberg, Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Philanthropy. “We cherish the kind of long-term relationship and commitment that develops with an organization like this—one that leverages its existing infrastructure, organizational efficiency and the passion of volunteers—among whom we have proudly counted our firm for the last decade, with many years to come—to keep learning about and solving a problem that doesn’t stay confined in neat boundaries, demographics or seasons,” Steinberg says.
Jason Habel, an Associate Vice President and Financial Advisor in Morgan Stanley’s Richmond Branch Office, discovered that sense of shared purpose when he became involved with the FeedMore food bank a couple of years after the financial crisis.
“Through my college alumni group, I worked at career fairs several times a year to help those who were unemployed and underemployed to land jobs. A lot of these people saw an opportunity. They said, ‘You know what? We don’t have 9-to-5 jobs now, let’s volunteer weekly at the food bank.’ I started volunteering with them, and I got my Morgan Stanley co-workers involved, too,” he says.
It’s something they still do nearly a decade later. During that period, the food bank also launched other initiatives, such as the School Market program designed to help combat weekend childhood hunger affecting impoverished school-aged children, a program that Morgan Stanley helped fund and expand. “We’re not a big branch, but I love that we have so many people that have come out over the years to help out,” says Habel.
The experiences employees recount with Feeding America are exhilarating—and also humbling. For many, volunteering with Feeding America food banks is a constant reminder of the importance of giving back, one of the firm’s four core values. Says McNeil, “Hunger is an issue that unites everyone. We can all come together and do our part."