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Fighting Hunger in Arkansas with Monique Sanders

4 min read

A Hot Springs native, Monique Sanders joined the Arkansas Foodbank as CFO in December 2021, having previously worked there from 2018-20. She previously worked in accounting at the Bill & Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock and in local government.

Sanders earned her bachelor’s from Davenport University in Dearborn, Michigan, and her MBA with a specialty in finance from Kaplan University.

What should donors do to ensure that their donations are useful and needed?

The AFB’s website, Arkansasfoodbank.org, has useful information to assist donors. The Support section provides a comprehensive list of ways to give. Web resources include a list of the most needed food items and general rules such as safe packaging. The Arkansas Foodbank is also a four-star-rated charity on Charity Navigator. This means the organization exceeds or meets best practices and industry standards across all areas and is likely to be a highly effective charity. The most common gifts are monetary and food donations, but did you know there are an additional 14 ways to give to the Arkansas Foodbank? The most impactful donation is a monetary gift. Ninety-six cents of every dollar goes directly into programming, and even just a $1 donation can provide food for five meals.

How does the food bank use data to fight hunger?

The Arkansas Foodbank has historically used its ERP [enterprise resource planning] system to track financial data to ensure transparent reporting to donors and community stakeholders. Reporting metrics such as pounds distributed and clients served have always been important reporting data. But we are moving in a direction to secure data on a more granular level to assist communicating to our donors the impact of their donations and to better serve our clients. For example, data such as the number of miles driven to pantries, peak days and hours clients visit our agency partner can assist in determining additional resources to better service working clients and those who don’t have resources nearby.

Why are corporate partnerships important to the food bank?

The Arkansas Foodbank has had the pleasure of working with wonderful corporate partners. Corporate partnerships assist with expanding the reach of the food bank’s message. Corporate buy-in to the Arkansas Foodbank’s mission assures we can feed our neighbors. We need large-scale partnerships with corporations across our state. Financial investment in our mission is the best way for us to leverage food sourcing relationships, lower the cost of acquiring food and effectively distribute to communities in need. With capital to invest back into our pantries and direct service programs, we can effectively create a network of resources to help Arkansans build better lives.

What is the main challenge facing the food bank right now?

Food sourcing is one of the main challenges facing food banks nationwide. The food banking industry has seen dramatic decreases in food donations. The Arkansas Foodbank is making deliberate efforts to foster stronger relationships with corporate food donors. We’re committed to ensuring our agency partners receive the resources they need.

Feeding America reports that 467,550 Arkansans are facing hunger — 134,690 of them children. How do you change that?

The Arkansas Foodbank is not a stranger to operating during challenging times. The increasing need for food security among Arkansans is an opportunity to strengthen essential relationships. These relationships ensure success for all those involved. Our programs such as the Backpack program and Senior boxes assist in reducing the food insecurity gap. We have sought out innovative ways to make sure resources are available. For example, at the height of COVID-19 when many of our agency partners were unable to operate, we significantly increased mobile distributions. They continue to be a flexible method to distribute food when the need is immediate, such as times of disaster and to locations considered as food deserts. The organization has continued to distribute 40 million pounds of food each year since 2020. Another priority is nurturing partnerships with health care  providers and distributing more produce. Healthy food equals a healthier body. Additionally, the Arkansas Foodbank promotes awareness of other benefits such as SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and other wrap-around services to approach the need in a holistic manner.

How do you leverage your skills as CFO to further the mission of the food bank?

Understanding the value of efficient processes is a skill I have been able to leverage in my current role. I identify processes that can be streamlined and seek to improve them. I am working with a team of innovative thinkers who have shared and embraced my excitement in automating several processes such as grants management in our ERP system, an electronic purchase order system and streamlining the purchase card process.

What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned?

As accountants, of course we know that one plus one equals two. However, I have learned to appreciate the value of collaboration, which produced a synergistic effect. I work with some of the most brilliant leaders in the food banking industry. We bring different perspectives to the table which lead to innovative solutions. But the most important lessons I have learned is that there will always be new lessons to learn, to always keep an open mind, and be brave enough to embrace out of the box thinking.

For more of this interview, visit arkansasbusiness.com/sandersqa.

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