Feeding America announces John van Hengel award winner for 2024, celebrates network members

April 18, 2024

Michael McKee, CEO of Blue Ridge Area Food Bank was awarded the 2024 John van Hengel Fellowship by Feeding America during the organization’s annual conference this week. Seven network members and affiliates were also recognized for their outstanding work, including: Arizona Food Bank Network, Facing Hunger Foodbank, Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, God’s Pantry Food Bank, Northern Illinois Food Bank, and Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

2024 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 partner food bank for excellence in leadership, local impact and national influence, and entrepreneurial spirit in the area of hunger relief.  

Michael McKee has served the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank (BRAFB) as CEO for more than 10 years and has worked in food banking for 14 years. At BRAFB, McKee has developed a guest-centric approach to the identification of critical needs, including broader financial stability support and increased access to culturally familiar foods. That approach led BRAFB to pursue strategic goals to eliminate disparities in access to nutritious food, improve the health of neighbors, support household financial stability, and maintain a strong and sustainable food bank. Michael has also served as board chair for the Federation of Virginia Food Banks for three separate terms over 10 years, championing the needs of neighbors, partners, and the food bank itself.

“Michael exemplifies the values of the Jon van Hengel Fellowship Award through his foresight, stewardship and commitment to mission,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. “Michael leads with a servant’s heart, with passion and with vision. His work is grounded in his fervent belief that everyone should have enough to eat. Of particular note has been his work on nutrition and health and a long-term approach to benefits outreach and referral services. This innovative work provides a powerful template for the network. Congratulations, Michael, and thank you for all you do.”

Network Celebrations

  • Arizona Food Bank Network is recognized for its work in forming a task force to explore how to save more of the millions of pounds of fresh produce that was going to waste throughout the state and at the border. These diverse stakeholders overcame differences to align on a common vision and today the 16 members of the Southwest Produce Coop, coordinated by the Arizona Food Bank Network, facilitate access to 40-50 million pounds of donated food each year – most of which is produce that reaches the tables of neighbors from Arizona to Kansas. The Coop has grown to also packaging bulk product, repacking previously rejected loads into mixed produce boxes, and piloting a job training program.
  • Facing Hunger Foodbank of Huntington, WV, and God’s Pantry Food Bank of Lexington, KY, are recognized for joining forces to convene officials from both states and USDA regions. For decades, residents in rural Kentucky had to travel over 30 miles for emergency food assistance despite the fact there were five food pantries stocked with USDA food only minutes away across the border in West Virginia. Differences in federally approved State Plans and USDA regional boundaries were barriers to access. After months of deliberations, they aligned on a common vision to eradicate hunger in rural Appalachia. They reached an agreement to raise the TEFAP income eligibility threshold in Kentucky to match West Virginia’s and both plans now allow residents of both states access to USDA food no matter where they live or work.
  • Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin is recognized for launching the Food Leaders Lab initiative to create a pathway for residents to identify solutions to hunger and use their voice to advocate for their ideas to come to fruition in their community. The food bank supports each participant’s vision by offering leadership development, communication, and advocacy trainings opportunities. Ambassadors then collaborate with elected officials, business leaders and government agencies to tackle urgent challenges.  As a result, leaders with lived experience have presented at national conferences, started businesses, entered public office, and formed a supportive community for peers.
  • Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina is recognized for developing the organization’s first ever equity statement. This deliberate, inclusive process included feedback loops and culminated with a team retreat to ensure the Food Bank’s public commitment to equity fully reflected the diverse perspectives of their staff. Today, the Food Bank is working towards ensuring that equity is measured by all teams across the organization and is embedded in practices including elevating neighbor voice, hiring, food sourcing, community engagement, linguistic diversity, partner agency relationships, and more.
  • Northern Illinois Food Bank is recognized for co-designing a pilot with agency partners, investing in their capacity, and engaging them in a peer learning cohort, Northern Illinois Food Bank and partners have launched a convenient online ordering system called Order Ahead. Neighbors can now privately choose from a menu of product and select the times and place of pick up from the privacy of their phones. With support from Northern Illinois Food Bank, this local network of agencies has been able to significantly enhance neighbors’ experience of food assistance in their communities. In fact, 39% of the neighbors now ordering from agencies have not sought their services before.
  • Ohio Association of Foodbanks is recognized for its pioneering approach to healthy food access by embracing the potential of a USDA program that incentivizes purchases from local producers for hunger relief activities. The partner state association worked diligently to foster trusting relationships among food banks and over 100 local farmers, most of whom were historically underserved by federal programs. Through direct dialogues, the state association helped partners agree on a unified aim of a resilient local supply chain with a pipeline for smaller growers. This approach balanced equitable prices and the scale needed to reach more people facing hunger.

“Through collaborative and innovative solutions, these recipients have shown what is possible when we leverage our voices toward a shared vision,” said Babineaux-Fontenot. “This honor is earned by each person connected to the work—especially neighbors who lend their expertise to solutions, as well as staff, volunteers, donors and partners. From pioneering approaches to healthy food access, to creating new communications channels for neighbor advocacy, to partnerships that rescue millions of pounds of fresh produce, these food banks have demonstrated the impact we can have when we work together.”  

Feeding America’s mission is 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 agency partners, including food pantries and meal programs, that provide food assistance to millions of people each year. 


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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 X.com.