By Adam Andrzejewski
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a record 44 million Americans lost their jobs and filed for unemployment. Many turned to their local non-profit, charitable food banks for hunger relief.
Based in Chicago, Feeding America is the largest food bank in the country with revenues of $2.9 billion (2019). Primarily a pass-through organization, it makes grants and donations to local food banks across the country.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com reviewed Feeding America’s payroll disclosures and found Diana Aviv, CEO, made $1.1 million (2019). This amount included $347,209 from a previous employer and rolled into a new 457B plan which was distributed to her when she left the organization that year.
In the previous year, Feeding America paid Aviv compensation of $860,909.
In 2019, other executives at the organization also made a lot of money: President Matthew Knott ($561,842, up $89,224), Treasurer Paul Henrys ($412,105, up $15,162), and Chief Marketing & Communications Officer Catherine Davis ($344,166, up $17,161). Chief Supply Chain Officer William Thomas made nearly $600,000between 2018 and 2019 before leaving the organization.
Responding to our request for comment, Zuani Villarreal, the communications director at Feeding America offered the following statement:
“The foundation of Feeding America’s executive compensation philosophy is rooted in sound practices to recruit and retain highly talented executive staff using competitive and reasonable measures. Feeding America has an executive compensation committee of the board of directors, which also utilizes the advice of independent advisors... that provides opinion as to the reasonableness of Feeding America’s compensation levels in relation to market norms.”
For comparison, four-star generals in the U.S. military earn $268,344 salaries and have hundreds of thousands of troops in their command. Catholic Charities, with a billion in revenues, paid their president $521,554 and their CFO $310,000, last year.
Other national food banks including Food for the Hungry paid CEO Gary Edmonds $248,444 and Fair Food Network President Oran Hesterrman pulled down $313,823.
Food banks in key markets assisted by Feeding America also had particularly high earners. Here is a breakdown of executive cash compensation in five large markets across the United States:
New York - The City Harvest food bank paid their five highest earners: CEO Jilly Stephens ($513,664), COO Jennifer Mclean ($309,619), Chief External Relations Officer Gregory Boroff ($307,405), Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Renee Richardson ($294,704), and Senior Director of Finance James Schembari ($198,019). The organization had $136 million in revenues and roughly 82.1% was spent on relief programs.
Chicago - The Greater Chicago Food Depository paid their five highest earners: CEO Katherine Maehr ($355,615), VP of Development Jill Zimmerman ($265,483), CFO Dennis James ($263,663), CMO Joan Chow ($242,817), and VP of Community Impact Nicole Robinson ($241,520), The organization had revenues of $122.6 million last year and 75.1% of revenues went to relief programs.
In 2019, the Depository received $1.77 million in grants funded by taxpayers from multiple state agencies. Taxpayers covered the payroll equivalent of the top eight earners ($1.65 million) for one of the larger food banks in the state of Illinois.
The following statement is from Jim Conwell, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at the Greater Chicago Food Depository:
“The majority of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s revenue is from individual donors, foundations and corporate philanthropy. Government sources accounted for 16% of funding last fiscal year. Any federal dollars received by the Food Depository are reimbursement for the administration, storage and distribution of federal food programs. The Food Depository routinely receives the highest financial and transparency ratings from nonprofit evaluators, including Charity Navigator.”
Los Angeles – The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank paid their five highest earners: CEO Michael Flood ($261,642); Chief Development Officer Roger Castle ($203,878); Chief Operating Officer Edward McCarthy ($189,890); Chief Financial Officer Steen Meisberger ($168,071); and Chief Information Officer Weldon Wu ($136,984). The organization had $115.5 million in revenues and used 85.1% on relief programs.
In San Jose - The Second Harvest of Silicon Valley paid their CEO Kathryn Jackson ($289,140). The organization had $126 million in revenues with 78.6% spent on relief programs. A spokesperson responded to our request for comment saying that the organization is transparent with their financials and has a four-star Charity Navigator rating.
In Atlanta, the Community Food Bank paid their CEO Kyle Waide $250,199. The organization took in $142.6 million in revenues and used 89.1% on relief programs. A spokesperson responded to our request for comment stating that compensation is set by the board in consultation with independent consultants on a competitive basis.
In Washington, D.C., at the federal level, the majority of federal bureaucrats administering food relief programs make more than $100,000. Reviewing the payroll data captured by our auditors, we found that the average pay for the 1,460 employees administering hunger relief was $104,588 with salaries up to $179,000.
Poverty fighters like Robert Woodson decry a modern “poverty industry” that tends to reward people running programs sometimes more richly than those eligible to receive benefits. The critique seems to apply to food banks.
Today, the American people are relying more and more on the soft social safety net – which is significantly funded by taxpayers and philanthropists.
And, so, the question remains, should a food bank executive earn nearly $1 million per year?