Just Food’s newest director, returning to Lawrence after nearly 2 decades, aims to listen and bring stability | News, Sports, Jobs

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Brett Hartford, Just Food’s newest executive director, started the job in early December. Hartford was born and raised in Lawrence, where he spent nearly 20 years on the East Coast before returning to the community.

Although he was born and raised in Lawrence, the new leader of local food bank Just Food hasn’t lived here for nearly 20 years.

One might think it means a lot has changed in the eyes of Just Food’s newest executive director, Brett Hartford. But for Hartford, who left Lawrence to attend college and has lived on the East Coast ever since, returning home felt more like homecoming than anything else.

“What I remember about Lawrence was the home and the inclusive community,” Hartford told Journal-World last week in his new role on Just Food. but I don’t think it’s changed as much as everyone feels it has, they’ve noticed that there are more people here and the edge of town is further away than it used to be, but I remember the community. And that’s what I think is really beautiful and what made us want to come back here.”

Hartford returned to Lawrence from New Jersey, where he and his family (wife of 14 years and two daughters) worked in many nonprofit organizations, including ten years at the New York City nonprofit City Relief. played a role. Mr. Hartford said he and his wife were actually both from Lawrence and that returning home was a homecoming for them. and this is an added bonus.

Hartford said it’s very different from the community her family called home in New Jersey, about an hour and 20 minutes’ drive from New York City. There, the town they lived in had about 2,000 people and was part of a metropolitan area of ​​smaller communities of similar size. But while driving from one town to the next, he said, everything seemed to run together, and it was hard to tell when one town ended and another began. Told.

This is in stark contrast to cities like Lawrence, which Hartford described as having a truly inclusive sense of community.

“I think Lawrence is great,” Hartford said. “I think what makes Lawrence great is the demographic diversity. To have the demographic diversity that makes Lawrence great, as Lawrence grows and the real estate grows, remember that. Not everyone is growing at the same rate.”

That was part of Hartford’s charm. It is the desire to remind those who have more to lift everyone else up and make sure everyone lives equitably in this community.

Hartford said returning to Lawrence wasn’t originally planned, but the role in Just Food was “the perfect job.”

“I’ve done everything but this ‘top leader’ position in the nonprofit world, but I was interested in finding something like that,” Hartford said. “But we needed to serve important people.”

Hartford initially said he will be taking a “listening tour” over the next six months with the goal of engaging directly with as many community partners and food bank patrons as possible. He said it would take a lot of questions and listening, but early on, he wanted patrons to talk to him during Just Food’s business hours so he could hear first-hand about meeting their needs. It also included assisting with check-in.

In short, Hartford said, you have to know your community to serve it.

And as his six-month listening tour draws to a close, one of the first steps is to make sure people know Just Food is a stable organization that will be here for decades to come. Hartford said it will.

“There’s no doubt about it, but I think it’s going to be ‘unsettled’ when there’s a leadership transition like it has been,” Hartford said. “…stabilization is first for the staff, for everyone.”

There have been many leadership transitions at Just Food in the past six months or so. The nonprofit’s last executive board member, Elizabeth Keaver, left Just Her Hood in May after more than five years as Chief Development Officer of the Heartland Community Health Center. Keaver was replaced by interim director Brett Salisbury, who served her less than five months in the role.

Then there’s more pressure on Just Food this year in terms of the number of patrons it’s serving. In August, the food bank set a record for patrons served in one day for the third time this year, and Hartford last week predicted that the daily record could be broken again by the end of 2022. Said he was doing

Hartford says nonprofits often try to rely on their strengths instead of talking about their needs and weaknesses, which they want to avoid. For example, Just Food’s greatest need right now is shelf stock. Hartford said that rather than the nonprofit buying groceries in bulk and operating in line with spending-maintained parameters, it would be better to pick up a few items it found on sale during a trip to the grocery store. Donating is often more cost-effective. that subsidy.

“There’s nothing wrong with people asking questions,” Hartford said. “We want to be as honest and open-minded about the needs we have because they are wonderful. There will be people who will not be able to receive services.

Ultimately, earning the trust of the community, Hartford said, could bring some stability and “revive” what the nonprofit has already been doing for years. increase.

Hartford said he continues to learn about the food insecurity situation in Douglas County as he adjusts to his new role. This is another one of his priority areas for him. He said he hopes other members of his community will also be interested in learning more about topics such as food waste.

Hartford said the agency plans to make good use of its social media channels for that purpose.

“This community encourages everyone to try new things if they are given the opportunity to support them, try new things, learn new things, and use that knowledge to improve the lives of others. You’ll learn,” Hartford said. He said.

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