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  • Writer's pictureLori Lombardi Ryan

Interview with Rick Whitted, CEO of U.S. Hunger

Rick Whitted, CEO of U.S. Hunger is a powerhouse and a longtime friend of OCMG. As a valued partner of OCMG, Rick has been a keynote speaker at many of our client events.

In our interview with Rick he shared with us the mission of Hunger Projects. Hunger Projects are fun, high-energy and hands-on meal packaging events that empower volunteers to make a tangible difference in the fight against hunger. With music booming, teams work together to package delicious meals for the millions of Americans living below the poverty line, including children, seniors and veterans across the country.

Hunger Projects are perfect for company team building events. If you are looking to put together an event with your team and you want to give back to the community at the same time as having fun, let's talk!

𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐚𝐜𝐭 𝐎𝐂𝐌𝐆:


𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐧 𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐔.𝐒. 𝐇𝐮𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐫:

U.S. Hunger Website:

U.S. Hunger "Hunger Projects":


Speaker 1 (00:08):

Hi, my name is Becca Berkenstadt and I am the marketing director at OCMG. Today we are here with Rick Whitted. Thank you very much for being with us today. We're so excited to talk with you.

Speaker 2 (00:22):

Glad to be here, Becca. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1 (00:26):

You know, OCMG has had a long history working with you, with your speaking career and some of our client events. We're so happy to hear about all of your success and to get into that today.

Speaker 2 (00:44):

Great. Let's get at it.

Speaker 1 (00:46):

Let's get started with a short video clip so that we can see your speaking career in action.

Video Speaker (00:57):

The decisions about your career are made at tables you don't sit at. Can I say that again? The decisions about your career are made at tables you don't sit at. So here's the question. What's the conversation at the table? The conversation at the table is not about your performance. I know you thought it was. The conversation at the table is not the quality of work, particularly for engineers. I know you thought it was. The conversation at the table is about your attitude. It's 100% about your attitude, your name doesn't come up at the table if you don't have the basics. You've got to be good at your job. You've got to be consistent. There has to be quality in your work, but I would venture 200 and almost 50 of you meet that criteria. That doesn't bring your name up at the table. Your attitude does.

Speaker 2 (01:55):

Well that brought back some memories, quite a few years ago there.

Speaker 1 (01:58):

Yeah. Yeah. Well, could you please share your story with us and just let us know, how did you get to where you are today?

Speaker 2 (02:09):

So our careers involve all our emotions and we're so unaware of it. So that's what I write about. That's what I talk about. I think that's critical to navigate your career. I wrote a test. I designed a test that helps you uncover that. How do you really define careers? How do you emotionally and mentally translate what career progression means to you? So, and what, what matters to me is, is am I, am I really adding value? Is there meaning and balance in what I do in the way I do it? So this was just a natural evolution for me to leave the corporate world after more than two and a half decades and come over to an organization that's really making a difference in the lives of folks that are in need.

Speaker 1 (02:55):

Well, it sounds like a lot of research and a lot of experiences went into inspiring your book Outgrow Your Space At Work and your motivational speaking career. Now I want to switch gears here and talk a little bit about U.S. Hunger. I'm just going to play a quick video for us.

Speaker 1 (03:56):

Tell us more about U.S. Hunger.

Speaker 2 (04:04):

Yeah. So you were just looking at what we call a Hunger Project. And for over a decade, this organization has been around and we address hunger. And we primarily did that historically through volunteerism events. And so we have brought in over the course of a decade, more than 830,000 volunteers to pack more than 150 meals that have been distributed across 53 countries. That's kind of the stat response. What does that mean? Often we find organizations, employers who really have a group of people, as I said earlier, that meaningfulness is important and impact is important to them. And our Hunger Project is a great way to put on an event that directly addresses hunger in the world by packing meals. Then what most folks don't know is that, you know, more than 80% of those meals are distributed to local food banks and pantries and organizations that our partners get to choose.

Speaker 2 (05:10):

And sometimes they come back to our virtual food bank we call full cart. And so that really is kind of one of the primary roles we do at U.S. Hunger. We're great at having you know, creating fun and happy volunteerism events as you saw, they're high energy, high engagement. We pack meals. We do a great job. We take a lot of pictures. There's a lot of music. There's a lot of laughing, there's a lot of competition. We do just, we really get to put our hands at addressing hunger. I know that's a big topic today. So that's been the legacy part of U.S. Hunger, our legacy, our former name was we just rebranded in this past year is feeding children everywhere, a name that we, we continue to us in our international overseas business.

Speaker 2 (06:05):

We also have full cart program, which is a domestic virtual food bank and we literally ship fresh produce that's packed at the farm or a shelf stable food box directly to the front door of individuals in oftentimes high poverty and food desert areas, which are places that in communities that don't have immediate access ability or walkability to fresh food. So it's a really dynamic organization. We're very data-driven and that's who we are, and that's what we do. And I love it. I am, I love it. It's fun. And we have a lot of fun, and we, we really do get to change lives. We read we've provided food to more than a hundred thousand homes across the country in the past year and a half. And we literally get verbatim stories from every one of those households. And they're, they're impactful. When someone says, I, you know, I, I literally just had to pawn my wedding ring and, but your box of food, we had no idea where we would get our next meal from. So we see stories like that constantly, and it's truly hard, and we can't meet all of those needs, but through our packing events business, and through our full cart, virtual food bank, we're able to really make a difference. And I'm proud of that. Very proud of that.

Speaker 1 (07:26):

Yeah, you should be. That's amazing. Can you, can you tell our audience, what are some of the root causes of food insecurity?

Speaker 2 (07:37):

Yeah. So really good question. And I'm glad you asked that because I think that's one of the things that's different about U.S. Hunger, because we actually start with this question, why are they hungry in the first place? And our program is built on two basic pillars discretion. It's really hard to share with somebody that I can't meet Maslow's most basic hierarchy of need feeding myself or my children or my family because our platform is virtual. It just provides a discreet way of having that conversation that doesn't embarrass anyone. So why you're rarely see a family picture, you know, on anything when we're talking about U.S. Hunger, because discretion's critical. And unless that family wants to share, we don't, we don't share the other is dignity. And so we provide literally a farm to table produce box or shelf stable box of food because of that, they tell us their story.

Speaker 2 (08:40):

We literally get a verbatim story. And what we are learning is that the biggest, biggest misconception about hunger in this country is that it's not about food. It's about other things like housing or financial literacy, or access to the financial system without paying check cashing fees, you know, or transportation to healthcare services that are needed, or I need to provide health. I have diabetes and I need a really good endocrinologist, but there's not one in the neighborhood I live in. They can't get to it. While you would say, well, you know, you should be healthier and go work out. And there's no green space in that area either. My neighborhood is lined with green space, those neighborhoods are not. So it's really an issue of accessibility in a variety of things that the world would know as social determinants of health. That's these socioeconomic things that are often poverty related that really determine the outcome, the health outcome of a population. And so we're learning that it's not about food, that, that hunger is about accessibility. And we try to do that and meet that need through gaining actionable intelligence and our data system, as well as getting food directly to the front door.

Speaker 1 (10:11):

And how does food insecurity relate to people of color?

Speaker 2 (10:19):

It's, it's so interesting. I heard one of our partners, Dr. Shelley, say show me your zip code and I'll show you how healthy you are to give you an example of that one local county that we work with their health department shared that eight zip codes, in eight zip codes in the county, infant mortality rate in those counties is two X anywhere else in the county. Said differently, an infant's chance of not surviving doubles if you're in these particular eight zip codes. We asked for those eight zip codes, and we, we plug those into our data system. What we found was that those eight zip codes outlined the largest food desert in that county. Number one, two, we found out that they were 70 to 86%, in those zip codes, black, Hispanic, or Caribbean. So they were really centered around communities and neighborhoods of colors. But we saw other things like a lack of accessibility to, to transportation for, for medical appointments or groceries. They were all in food deserts. So there is, there tends to in black and brown, Hispanic, Caribbean, oriented communities, just a lack of access to things that are just essential for a healthy outcome for that community and for those individual families.

Speaker 1 (12:08):

That's so important to remember. And, you know, we ask, you know, as corporations, how can we get involved in, how can we help?

Speaker 2 (12:19):

Yeah. I'll tell you, I think there's two ways, one, your, your people, they want to make a difference. Meaning is at the top of the list of folks that are trying to figure out what progression in their life means. And meaning is a big part of that. Am I moving forward? They want to put their hands to doing something that matters and our meal, packing events activity. It's just a great way to do that. You have to experience one to really get that. So I think that's one way you can literally hands on support. We also are looking for partners to come alongside and help us. You know, when I tell you we've got a virtual food bank, I have more than 40,000 applicants. We didn't solicit, we didn't market. They found us online that I can't fund today.

Speaker 2 (13:17):

And, we're able to provide geo mapping and, and data about where your impact is happening. And we literally can show you who we're feeding literally around all of your office locations across the country. So you can really make a difference if that's a matching program or, you know, something to that effect. We'd love to talk to organizations. What we tend to find is companies love our Hunger Project event. It's just so fun. And it's a way to get food back into the community at, you know, literally thousands and hundreds of thousands of meals, if not millions of meals.

Speaker 1 (13:57):

Yeah. That I, you know, what to give people a visual, I'd like to share a video that your team has provided us.

Video Speaker (14:51):


Speaker 2 (16:14):

We literally packed a million meals within an hour, bunch of music, bunch of high energy and fun. But we coordinate events like that, but we also do small 6, 10, 12 people events as well. It could be just leadership staff and they're packing food and it's just as fun. So that's one of the things we do really, really well. And I'm really proud of the team, how they deliver a concierge style service. We take care of it. All you do is pick the venue, you pick the place, we get the food there. We coordinate the event. We do the rest and our team is really good at relationship managing those projects. So I'm really excited about that.

Speaker 1 (16:57):

Yeah, they look so fun and I am so honored to be able to talk with you today. Thank you so much for your time. Can you tell us where can our audience find you and U.S. Hunger?

Speaker 2 (17:10):

You can send an email directly to and, you know, whatever your inquiry is between myself or my team, we will respond very quickly to those queries and answer any question you want. You can also go to, and you can, there's just a plethora of information about who we are and if you want to volunteer, if you want more information on a Hunger Project or our full cart program, you'll find a way to connect us there as well.

Speaker 1 (17:45):

Wonderful. Thank you so much for your time today. We can't wait to talk with you again

Speaker 2 (17:51):

Soon. Take care. Thanks a lot. You too. Bye. Bye.

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