Feeding America Announces John van Hengel Award Winner for 2022, Celebrates Network Members

April 7, 2022

Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, presented the John van Hengel award and celebrated its network members at the organization’s annual conference this week. The 2022 John van Hengel Fellowship was awarded to Valerie Nicholson-Watson, President and CEO of Harvesters Community Food Network in Kansas City. Six network members were also recognized for their outstanding work during the conference’s “Network Celebrations” including: Feeding Florida, Food Bank of Iowa, Food Share of Ventura County, The Greater Boston Food Bank, Greater Chicago Food Depository, and St. Louis Area Foodbank.

2022 John van Hengel Fellowship

The award honors the ideals of the late John van Hengel, who developed the concept of food banking in the 1960s. It recognizes an executive of a member food bank for excellence in leadership, local impact and national influence, and entrepreneurial spirit in the area of hunger relief. Nicholson-Watson has committed 20 years to solidifying Harvesters’ strong reputation by building deep relationships and expanding community outreach efforts. She has provided exceptional service and leadership in collaboration with the Feeding America Network by serving as a board member, treasurer and five years as president of the Missouri Food Bank Association, as well as supporting the regional disaster response cohort of 14 food banks across Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

“Throughout her distinguished career, Valerie has demonstrated passionate, influential leadership,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. “She carries a contagious optimism and truly believes in the mission of serving neighbors in need. Those who work with her know that she has the extraordinary ability to motivate people around her to see past every obstacle. Valerie’s work at Harvesters has led the organization to grow its food distribution, strengthen its financial stability, and enhance its innovative programming, all to make sure food is available to anyone who needs it.”

Network Celebrations

  • Feeding Florida is recognized for its remarkable work in overseeing 12 network member food banks across the state. Feeding Florida created an advocacy committee, communications group, grants opportunity group, and a statewide food drive group. These groups actively meet, allowing the State Association to work directly with food bank staff on projects like state-wide policy initiatives, share best practices, and increase the network’s speed of response and action.
  • Food Bank of Iowa is recognized for the organization’s exceptional efforts in seeking out new community partnerships, while deepening relationships with existing alliances. Food Bank of Iowa worked to identify marginalized communities experiencing food insecurity—especially in Latino, African, and Asian immigrant communities. This resulted in a new community partnership with 14 pastors of African immigrant evangelical congregations, a group that was not being served by existing services. Today, one of the largest churches serves as a food distribution hub to the other congregations, with the food bank delivering food once a week.
  • Food Share of Ventura County is recognized for the excellent care and appreciation the organization has shown to its staff during a difficult year. The food bank created an employee engagement committee that met monthly, with representatives from every department. The committee, open to anyone who wishes to participate, has implemented a number of programs, including employee family picnics, half-day Fridays, a revamped holiday schedule, corn hole tournaments, logo jackets, staff lunches, on-site car washes and an upgrade to the organization’s 403(b) program.
  • The Greater Boston Food Bank is recognized for its support of Massachusetts’ Food Security Task Force through its management of the state’s $30 million food purchasing program. This work has resulted in more statewide collaboration between food banks, school meal programs, local community partners and state agencies.
  • Greater Chicago Food Depository is recognized for the organization’s efforts in developing its Food Equity Ambassadors program. This program selects ambassadors from the depository’s most engaged advocates and has them spend a year cultivating their advocacy skills and building relationships with elected officials and community members to highlight the organization’s policy priorities. Greater Chicago Food Depository will encourage ambassador alumni to guide the next cohort of ambassadors through the program to create more robust community partners in policy and advocacy.
  • St. Louis Area Foodbank is recognized for its outstanding development of partnerships by adding more than 75 new partner agencies since the start of the pandemic. The organization awarded grants to all their partners and supported them by conducting online training, seminars and listening sessions, and assisting them with capital expenses throughout the pandemic.

“Each of these network members has made a tremendous impact for people facing hunger in each of their communities,” said Babineaux-Fontenot. “This honor goes to every person connected to each food bank – from the employees, volunteers, donors and partners. From their focus on engaging with new partners to supporting member food banks across the network in times of disaster or emergency, these network members demonstrate the impact we can have when we come together.”

With a mission to advance change in America by ensuring equitable access to nutritious food for all, Feeding America is a network of more than 200 food banks, 21 statewide food bank associations, and over 60,000 partner agencies, food pantries and meal programs that provide food assistance to tens of millions of people each year. Collectively, since the start of the pandemic, the Feeding America network has provided more than 10.8 billion meals to tens of millions of people in need.


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About Feeding America

Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of more than 200 food banks, 21 statewide food bank associations, and over 60,000 partner agencies, food pantries and meal programs, we helped provide 5.3 billion meals to tens of millions of people in need last year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; brings attention to the social and systemic barriers that contribute to food insecurity in our nation; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.