Video: Marine 'fights' to end hunger

NBC News with Brian Williams
By Kevin Tibbles Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/5/2005 11:35:13 AM ET 2005-12-05T16:35:13

CHICAGO — In this frenzied holiday season of commerce and consumption, meet a man whose mission is the big business of charity.

"We are the Wal-Mart of food banking," says Mike Mulqueen.

On this day, Mulqueen gives a local bank president the "hard sell" and motivates his army of staff and volunteers. He's always working the room, and his room is an 11-acre fortress against hunger — The Chicago Food Depository.

The organization feeds nearly 310,000 people a year, more than 84,000 meals every day.

"I really got a close-up look at the tremendous need in this community," says Mulqueen, "and it really stung me. Because 30 years in the Marine Corps, I'm really isolated from poverty issues."

Mulqueen didn't know much about hunger, but as a retired brigadier general he did know how to lead.

"If we're not feeding hungry people efficiently and effectively, we all fail, starting with me," he says.

This former Marine discovered it takes a lot more than just good intentions to run a charity. To distribute more than 40 million poundsof food a year, you have to run it like a business. In his first nine months, Mulqueen fired insurance agents, bankers and accountants. The word was out — Mulqueen was not an easy mark.

"It's not just the right thing to do, to feed hungry people, that's a moral imperative," he says. "From a business perspective, it's the smart thing to do."

Why? Because, Mulqueen says, healthy people find jobs, pay taxes, educate their children and spend money.

Mulqueen's operation is much more than a church basement food bank. It's a $53 million-a-year industry — manufacturing, distributing, even training the unemployed in food preparation.

"It gives me self-esteem," says Ella Nevels, who works at the Chicago Community Kitchen. "I've been out of work for about two years."

She' just another foot soldier enlisted in this Marine's war on hunger.

"Nobody has a hard time sleeping at night, you know, because we know we're making a difference in everybody's lives," says Nevels.

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