Eric Sheldahl introduced himself as “not much of a public speaker”; however, he went on to tell of a speaking engagement at a Chandler Rotary Club that brought Midwest one of its most faithful volunteers, and speaking at a Kiwanis program in Scottsdale landed one of their members becoming Midwest’s Director of Operations. I’d say and you will see he is a pretty dynamic speaker with a simple message and goal. The story begins on a farm in Des Moines Iowa, where for a time, Eric, with his wife developed real estate until the market crash. They moved to Arizona in 2008 with the intention to flip houses. They feel like they’re in paradise on Arizona. In December 2014 they were looking through the Charity Navigator for a non-profit to donate to and saw that Midwest Food Bank was listed in the Top 10 and had given $84 million dollars of food away free to agencies. Pretty impressive. What do their CEO and management team get paid? Zero. Highest paid employee -$60,000. Seriously? They made a small donation, In January Eric received a phone call from one of the founders (3 brothers) thanking him for his gift. At the end of 2015, again consulting Charity Navigator they saw that Midwest that year gave away $122,800 of food to agencies. Food was given, sorted and distributed to agencies by volunteer semi truck drivers. They made a donation. In 2015 they again received a phone call from the founder with a personal thank-you. This time they visited a bit. How do you do this?, they asked. “It’s not me, replied , it’s God at work. How can we do this in Phoenix? In February of 2016 Midwest folks traveled on their own dime to Phoenix, they met Eric And his wife and they mutually fell in love. In September of 2015 they acquired a 26,800 square foot facility on Baseline that opened February of 2016. Sheldahl reports that they served 30 agencies the first week they were open and that number has now swelled to 138. They stole Lauren Leverette from the Boys and Girl’s club and she has brought order, organization and efficiency to the business. With Lauren, the operations director, a warehouse man and an accountant their staff payroll is < $140,000. Saturday mornings are their “big day”. They welcome volunteers to help pack food boxes for agencies and are fed lunch for their efforts. It’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, for kids to see their parents giving service and so forth.
Midwest Food Banks’ History involved 3 brothers who were also Iowa farmers. They felt called to start a food bank to be able to donate to small food pantries and in 2005 CEO David Kieser packed a load and a half on a tractor trailer and delivered to the local Salvation Army and the SA asked for 10 more loads. Three volunteers got on cell phones and called food manufacturers throughout the US and made connections and alliances to receive food as long as it was never sold and a tax write-off could be generated. Midwest was born and still picks up food manufacturers donations with their fleet of 13 semi trucks and delivers to their facilities to pack and distribute to partner agencies. Gilbert is the 7th MWF location in the US. To date MWF bank’s Gilbert location has 700 volunteers, has boxed 100,000 cases of food to agencies. Their immediate plans are to install refrigerators and freezers to be able to accept produce and other perishable goods.
Sheldahl graciously invited members to visit anytime. Saturday, however is their “action day” and people are welcome to visit to see what is involved or to participate if they wish. Volunteers package 300 food boxes that cost the operation probably less than $ 4/ box.
How are agencies vetted to be a partner?
- They must be a 501c3 organization.
- They must serve the impoverished.
- The must fill out and complete an application process.
- They must agree and sign off never to sell anything they receive.
- A Midwest team conducts an initial site visit.
- Unannounced site visits are conducted every 6 months to ensure compliance with agreement.
It is an amazing organization and Gilbert is luck to have such a facility within its Town. When asked to reflect on their success, Sheldahl states, “none of us a really doing this, God is on the move.” Indeed.