Eradication of hunger across the country is the ultimate goal for Chris Hatch, CEO of Food Banks Canada.
And, since moving to Niagara-on-the-Lake with his wife Karen in November, he is working toward that goal from his home office on John Street.
Food Banks Canada is a national charitable organization that supports a network of 650 provincial associations, affiliate food banks, and food agencies all working at the community level to relieve hunger. Their work is focused on maximizing collective impact, strengthening local capacity, and reducing the overall need for food banks.
“We provide national leadership to relieve hunger today and prevent hunger tomorrow, working with a food bank network across Canada,” Hatch says of his organization’s mission statement. “Our mandate is both a short-term one, making sure people who are hungry today get the food they need. And on a more long-term basis, we work with the federal and provincial governments trying to enact social policy changes to alleviate hunger in the future.”
Hatch is clearly the right man for the job. He took the helm of the national organization in December, 2017, after nine years as executive director at the Mississauga Food Bank. While in that role, he was instrumental in developing a sophisticated inventory management system.
“It just dawned on me that we needed something better than pencil and paper,” Hatch explains. “So we put in a barcode-scanning inventory system just as sophisticated as you would find in grocery stores. It would predict shortages, help us find where things were, it automatically rotated the stock. We had scanning guns and were able to control inventory.”
Another innovation he introduced was a state-of-the-art aquaponics farm, raising tilapia to assist in growing fresh vegetables. “I read about it (aquaponics) and thought we might be able to use it in the food bank,” he tells The Local. “I found an organization in Wisconsin that is an expert on aquaponics. I got a large grant to buy the equipment, install it and train people. We built a full-scale system and supplied 50 other food banks with bok choy and romaine lettuce year round. And we made an arrangement with a company that would fillet, clean and package the fish for us. We would flash-freeze them and ship them off to the food banks.”
This business-like focus on innovation and improvement in food bank systems might lead one to assume that Hatch has spent his working life in the non-profit sector. On the contrary, it is most likely his 25 years as a human resources consultant that has allowed him to see the changes that needed to be made.
A native of Boston, Hatch’s corporate career took him around the world, working for three large global multi-million dollar consulting firms, including Wyatt Worldwide and Mercer. In 1996, he came to Canada to run the national operation of one of those firms. The family (his first wife and their three boys and one girl), fell in love with the country immediately, and never left.
In 2005, Hatch stepped down from his fast-paced, high-pressure consulting career as his first wife was attending graduate school. He became what he calls a house dad, running the kids to school and events and doing all the household chores. It was during that time he decided to volunteer at the Mississauga Food Bank.
“When I walked in, I was shocked,” he remembers. “I had no idea how big it was. I thought it was going to be a little pantry with a couple of shelves of food.”
Soon, his business background led to an invitation to sit on its board of directors. When the executive director was terminated, he threw his name into the hat and after a long search process, was offered the job. He immediately brought his business focus to the organization.
“I feel very strongly that the charitable sector needs more people with a business background,” Hatch says. “We need to have IT, HR, finance, marketing, risk management. All the things that a company has needs to be in a charitable organization as well.”
He got to work reorganizing, rebranding and relaunching that food bank, and it grew dramatically. His success there was noticed by the national organization, which came calling three years ago. Upon being hired by Food Banks Canada, he was handed the strategic plan developed by the board and got to work beginning to execute it.
During the pandemic, Hatch and his staff of 35 employees have been instrumental in helping meet the increased demand for food bank services. “Demand has gone up dramatically across the country,” he says. “The good thing is we’ve had tremendous support from the federal government, the provincial government, and the corporate world.”
In March, when Premier Doug Ford announced an $8 million grant to support food banks across the province, Hatch was involved in helping the provincial organization Feed Ontario source food and distribute hampers to all the food banks in Ontario. It was instrumental in alleviating difficulties posed by early supply chain issues.
Hatch and his staff have been responsible for sourcing and moving 39.1 million pounds of food during the pandemic. They work mainly in food procurement and distribution, soliciting donations, distributing surplus food across the country and purchasing in bulk when funding is available. Logistics is a major focus, moving food by rail, ship, plane and truck, and even serving remote communities in areas such as Iqaluit. They have a network of large warehouses across the country, and also rely on food banks in larger cities to help distribute to those in smaller communities.
Food insecurity and hunger is a poverty issue, says Hatch, and Food Banks Canada advocates to solve that problem. “I have staff that work in Ottawa lobbying with the federal government and the provincial governments,” says Hatch. “We’re currently working with the federal government to try to get in a national, subsidized daycare system. We’re fighting for housing benefits, and minimum wage policies, too.”
The pandemic has resulted in the Food Bank Canada offices near the Pearson Airport being closed, so now is the perfect time for Chris and Karen to make the move to NOTL, where he can do most of his work from his home office.
“Karen has cousins who live down here, and we have been coming to visit them for years,” he explains. “We fell in love with Niagara-on-the-Lake and have always dreamt of living here. We came down this summer and fell in love with the house and decided to buy it.”
They love the walkability of the community, and Hatch says he can feel the stress of the big city already being lifted from his shoulders. “I know it’s off-season for tourism, but we love how quiet it is,” he enthuses. “We love the feeling of community. We’ve only been here two months and we’ve already connected with people from Rotary. We couldn’t be happier. We look forward to meeting people post-COVID.”
The former varsity rugby player at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, is full of energy and enthusiasm, and has brought those traits to his new community. He is eager to make connections within the town and to get involved. It surely won’t be long until that energy and enthusiasm have a direct impact on NOTL.