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New food bank CEO seeks to end hunger

Nicole Suydam is working to eliminate hunger in Orange County and spreading some hope along the way.
/ Source: The Orange County Register

Nicole Suydam is working to eliminate hunger in Orange County in California and spreading some hope along the way.

The Aliso Viejo resident recently took over as CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank, which distributes more than 16 million pounds of food through local nonprofits every year. Suydam came to the food bank after serving as vice president of development at Goodwill of Orange County, as well as working as Second Harvest's development manager from 1997 to 2001. Being back at the food bank is exciting, Suydam said, and she's spending her first weeks getting hands-on experience of operations as well as visiting partner agencies.

Helping those in need, especially children, motivates Suydam. Even in a community as affluent as Orange County, she said, hunger is a reality.

Q. What drew you to nonprofit work?

A. I grew up in a single parent home. ... It was just me and my mom. We had a great extended family, and also I had a tremendous support network through my church and through my school. I grew up really knowing that even though I was from a single parent household, there was a community surrounding me that wanted me to be successful. That really drove me as I got older to want to make a difference and want to give back.

Q. Why did you decide to return to Second Harvest when you had the chance?

A. It's just knowing that every day you're directly meeting a need, and you're touching lives that really need the help. This is the most basic need you can meet for somebody, food. It's hard to imagine being without, that families struggle, and I think I just really have a passion for helping people who are in need. Whatever we can do, whatever I can do, I want to be a part of that.

Q. Tell me about the need for food in Orange County.

A. There's always been a need, even in the good times. I think that that's the interesting side of things. Even when times were really good here, there were still many people who went without or who struggled. There's that perception in Orange County, we're an affluent community, there's no people going hungry here. But with the economy, with the recession... people are more aware that there are needs. Right now in Orange County there are over 600,000 people who are at risk of going hungry every day. When you look at our population, that's a significant group of people who are struggling to make ends meet and struggling to put food on the table.

Q. What are your goals for the next few years for this place?

A. We know that right now we're serving about 240,000 people, so there's a big gap in who we're serving and who's in need. I want to do everything we can do to expand, to bring in more resources, whether it be food or money or volunteers. We're in a position to substantially grow. It's really our mission. Our mission is to eliminate hunger in Orange County. It's a big mission. That means we need more resources toward reaching that goal.

Q. What puts you in a position to expand when other nonprofits are shrinking?

A. Having the right people involved. We have a very committed and passionate board of directors. Same with our staff. We have to be creative and innovative, and come up with new ways of doing things. I know there are more resources out there, and we just have to be really aggressive and strategic about getting them.

Q. What do you want people to know about Second Harvest?

A. While we're doing a lot of logistics in terms of collecting food and distributing food, at the heart of it, we're a compassionate organization. Even if you look at our logo, there's a heart right there in the middle. It's hard work, definitely, but it's important and it's needed in our community. Our organization and the people involved love being part of this mission.