As executive director of Project Bread, Ellen Parker has raised more than 100 million dollars to feed hungry children and families in Massachusetts. At the same time, she has transformed Project Bread from a narrowly focused anti-hunger organization to a national model that presents a broad and comprehensive set of solutions for hunger relief and prevention.
Since 1996, she has re-framed the thinking about hunger by focusing on public health and learning. She initiated a successful statewide campaign for universal breakfast for low-income elementary children; introduced the Chefs in Schools Initiative in Boston, Lawrence, and Salem, and created hunger screening programs in health centers across Massachusetts.
In accomplishing this, she’s brought vibrant new partnerships to the table — engaging research institutions, legislators, hospital networks, corporate partners, the media, as well as school districts in her work. Through her leadership, Ms. Parker has worked to establish new nutritional standards for school meals while also providing funding for 430 community food programs in 125 communities throughout Massachusetts.
Under her direction, the importance of Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline has grown and counselors receive more than 49,000 calls each year from people who seek help finding enough food to eat.
Before assuming the leadership of Project Bread, Ms. Parker was vice president of Programs at Crittenton Hastings House, Boston; regional director of Catholic Charities, Boston, and senior policy advisor for Human Services to the Mayor of Boston. She holds two master’s degrees from Boston University, including one in social work and one in business administration and public management
Q: How did you become involved with Lovin’ Spoonfuls?
A few years ago, Ashley Stanley and I were on a panel together at the Milton Public Library. At the time, I knew very little about food rescue. Right away, I was fascinated by the idea – and I loved Ashley’s energy and passion. Since we met, she’s been my teacher. I learned about the extraordinary potential of food rescue through my work and friendship with Ashley.
Q: Why does Boston need Lovin’ Spoonfuls?
There are many people who experience hunger on a regular basis because they cannot afford adequate food. We need a set of sustainable solutions to food insecurity in Boston. Scaled up food rescue should be one of them – an important one. Many people living in Boston neighborhoods can buy healthy food some of the time, but not all of the time. As one mother told me “I need help when there is more month than money.” We need to elevate food rescue as a smart and savvy solution – not a second class one. A food rescue strategy that combines food AND cooking is good for business, good for the earth, and good public health policy. It’s a bridge for families during difficult times – and in the end, it can be a win for all of us.
Q: What is your favorite recipe/way to use up leftovers?
It’s definitely ratatouille in the summer and fall when I always have odds and ends of fresh vegetables. I learned how to cook from my mother and my aunts when I was young. I grew up eating real food. This year, the school chefs at Project Bread taught me to turn leftover fruits and veggies into salsa. In the winter, I make soup every Sunday afternoon and pack it as lunch for my husband and me.
Q: How does Project Bread work with and support Lovin’ Spoonfuls?
Project Bread is a funding partner to Lovin’ Spoonfuls for a few years. However, we’ve recently expanded our relationship and partnered together in a pilot project that combines the recovered nutrition from food rescue with the skills of Project Bread Chefs, producing delicious lower cost summer meals for kids. As kids head back to school this fall, we are hoping to continue this project.
Q: What new Project Bread initiatives or programs are you working on?
I am really excited about expanding our Chefs in Head Start program. The goal of the program is to capture the imagination and taste buds of young children before they form a preference for foods high in sugar, fat and sodium and to teach their parents and the school kitchen staff as well. We started the program in Lynn, MA, working with 400 of the most vulnerable children and their families to teach them the value of good nutrition and how to make healthier versions of some of their traditional favorites. We’ve just partnered with the Worcester Community Action Council to bring the program into Southbridge, Spencer, and Oxford this fall, serving an additional 200 children and their parents.