Helping a New Jersey Hunger Relief Network

Sep 29, 2023

This year's winning U.S. team in our signature pro bono program collaborated with the MEND Hunger Relief Network to maximize the impact of their direct delivery program.

Key Takeaways

  • Morgan Stanley's Strategy Challenge pro bono program pairs rising cross-divisional talent within the firm with New York and London metro area nonprofits to help solve a strategic challenge that is critical to the nonprofit’s mission.
  • This year's winning Strategy Challenge team in New York helped MEND—a nonprofit focused on increasing access to fresh and healthy food for food insecure families in New Jersey—identify the demographic most in need of services.
  • MEND’s Morgan Stanley team also helped the organization identify strategies to more efficiently serve those in need—in particular, families with young children—as well as ways to develop partnership criteria and to optimize operations in order to increase the reach and impact of their services.

What It Is

Strategy Challenge is Morgan Stanley's flagship pro bono program that brings together rising talent within the firm to help nonprofit organizations solve challenges that are critical to the organization’s ability to deliver on its mission.


Teams of employees in New York and London are paired with nonprofits based on their expertise for the challenge at hand to develop a strategic plan that addresses such issues as organizational expansion, scaling of operations and enhancements to efficiency and effectiveness through business and program models.


The eight- to 10-week program culminates in a presentation of recommendations to nonprofit sector experts and senior leaders at the firm, who then announce one winning team per region.


Why We Do It

“Our Strategy Challenge engages our best asset—our employees—from various divisions across the firm, and matches their expertise with local nonprofits to help them address a strategic question that they don’t have the resources to tackle,” says Joan Steinberg, Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Philanthropy. “After weeks of collaboration and analysis, each nonprofit walks away with deep insights and recommendations that amplify their impact on the communities they serve. And our employees have the opportunity to broaden their career experience and use their professional skills to give back in an especially substantive and meaningful way.”


This Year's Winning U.S. Team

The winner of this year's U.S. Strategy Challenge was MEND, represented by MEND Executive Director Robin Peacock, four Morgan Stanley team members—Anna Bagley Chabon, Associate in Risk Management; Abby Balsamo, Vice President in Wealth Management and Investment Management Emerging Technology Strategy; Chris Manley, Vice President in the Institutional Equity Division; and Evis Pustina, Director in Internal Audit—as well as their advisor Mattias Backstrom, Managing Director in Legal and Compliance and Global Head of New Product Approval.


MEND, which stands for Meeting Essential Needs with Dignity, is a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to fresh and healthy food for food insecure families in Essex County, New Jersey. Through a collaborative network of over 40 food pantries and community partners, MEND supported over 390,000 people in 2022, of whom 36% were children.1


MEND’s Strategic Challenge

MEND challenged their Morgan Stanley team to identify the demographics most in need of services and any partnerships that might maximize the impact of MEND on the Move, a program aimed at reducing barriers to fresh food access in food deserts and under-resourced communities through free monthly farmers markets and home deliveries. Nearly 79% of MEND’s mobile market’s operations take place in such food deserts, and it serves areas where the Child Opportunity Index—which measures a child’s ability to thrive using qualitative data based on where they live—is the lowest in the county.


After quadrupling its operations in its first year, MEND on the Move had to consider how it could sustain this momentum and shift to a more proactive approach for identifying and reaching individuals and families most in need of their services.


How It Was Addressed

Through researching the hunger relief landscape in Essex County, the team determined that many organizations and government programs serve broad demographics. Among those that are dedicated to subsets of the population, there was a gap for families with young children, which was therefore recommended as the priority population for MEND’s mobile food distribution services.


The team established criteria for assessing potential partners to reach this demographic and provided optimizations for MEND’s current operating model to expand the number of people served, all while upholding the high quality of their services and the food they provide. Among the recommendations: explore and expand on key partnerships with schools, social service providers and community organizers, which are best positioned to help MEND serve families with young children in Essex County. The team also suggested ways to increase revenue.


This 10-week program saved us thousands of hours of staff time and accelerated the transformation of hunger relief in our community.
Executive Director, MEND

The Impact on the Nonprofit and Our Employees

For MEND and the communities it serves, the impact was profound. “Our dedicated Morgan Stanley team analyzed an abundance of data that we hadn’t had the capacity to explore deeply,” said Robin Peacock, Executive Director at MEND. “With their expertise, we were able to more fully understand community needs, test and validate our existing programming, and design a blueprint for future growth. This 10-week program saved us thousands of hours of staff time and accelerated the transformation of hunger relief in our community.” That success was due in part to the team’s understanding of what was required. Says Morgan Stanley team member Abby Balsamo, “Instead of trying to give MEND a completely new strategy, we tried to validate and lift up what they were already doing into a clearly defined, yet adaptable path forward.”


And she and the Morgan Stanley’s team members benefitted as well. “To know that the skillset I’ve honed at Morgan Stanley can be transferred to help organizations like MEND, which are the foundation of our communities, was eye-opening,” says Anna Bagley Chabon. “For me, this was an early milestone event in what I hope will be a career of giving back.”

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