After 27 years of fighting hunger and poverty in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Beverly Howard has announced she will retire in June as head of Loaves & Fishes, the city’s chief source of food for many low-income people.
Howard is among a handful of key nonprofit leaders in the city who weathered the recent recession, when critical needs charities supplying food and shelter saw big jumps in clients and drops in donations. During that period, the city lost dozens of nonprofit leaders to retirement, firings, mergers or closures of the charities.
Loaves & Fishes not only survived, but expanded to include more pantries and broader programs to help the growing immigrant population and to help homeless people enrolled in shelter re-housing programs.
“I saw nonprofit leaders were leaving (during the recession), but I had no intention of going when there was any question about Loaves & Fishes’ ability to continue its work,” Howard said. “We are in a safe place now, with excellent board leadership and a strong staff. It’s a great time for me to step down.”
Howard says she never feared Loaves & Fishes would close, but was concerned it might have to limit the number of people who got food. That didn’t happen. At the height of the recession in 2012, clients peaked at a record 126,803 people.
Among her accomplishments was growing the agency from six pantries in 1988 to a current total of 20. In her first year, Loaves & Fishes fed 20,000 people. This past year, it fed 78,608 people, nearly half of them children.
Four of the agency’s 20 pantries now have largely Hispanic clients, and some of the locations are run by Hispanic congregations.
Howard created a new mini-pantry program at social services agencies, to help in cases where clients show up at the last minute for help and their emergency needs include food for the weekend. And she is partnering with the Salvation Army Center of Hope by supplying a few weeks of food to families moving into housing programs.
“When we pick up the phone and call, Beverly Howard always finds a way to make things happen,” said Deronda Metz, director of the Center of Hope. “Even if it is going outside the box a little, she never says ‘no.’ She understands the challenges our families are facing and figures out a way to help.”
A transition team has been formed and will begin the search for Howard’s replacement early next year, officials said. Howard said she expected to stay through May. Her plan after that might include some consulting, but she doesn’t intend to pop up as the leader of any other nonprofits.
Prior to Loaves & Fishes, she served as the executive director of Friendship Trays and was a founding member of the Unity Against Hunger and Poverty group in Charlotte. She has also served as a board member for the National Association of Meal Programs and is an active member of Bread for the World, which lobbies on behalf of hungry people in this country and abroad.
“The Charlotte-Mecklenburg community has been the beneficiary of almost three decades of selfless and dedicated service by Beverly Howard to those experiencing a short-term crisis,” said Loaves & Fishes board chairman Tim Klund. “Charlotte-Mecklenburg citizens are losing an important community leader.”