Feeding America Announces John Van Hengel Award Winner for 2021

Eric Cooper, CEO of San Antonio Food Bank, Has Dedicated More Than 25 Years to Ending Hunger

April 28, 2021

Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization with a network of 200 food banks, presented the 2021 John van Hengel Fellowship to Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, today at their annual conference held virtually this week. 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.

For more than 20 years, Cooper has grown the San Antonio Food Bank’s footprint from only a handful of employees providing 8.3 million meals at the beginning of his tenure to a staff of 260 employees helping to provide 67 million meals while also expanding and evolving programs that ensure a healthier, more self-sufficient community.

As president and CEO, Cooper has developed several strategic community alliances that have become national models and have transformed the local landscape. Some examples include engaging healthcare partners in the e-Referral process to tackle social determinants of health and food insecurity as well as the Produce Packing Shed in the South Texas “winter garden” area, which for the past 15 years has been a model for gleaning, culling and working in the community alongside farmers.

Cooper is seen as a leader and a voice for the network of food banks. He has been a mentor to dozens of food bank executives, has served on countless national committees, and visited dozens of food banks to consult on projects and issues. His presence in the media, last year conducting more than 100 media interviews, elevated the work of the 200 food banks, as they responded to the food crisis that came as a result of the pandemic and the economic downturn that followed.

“At his very core, Eric exemplifies what it means to be a servant leader – to his staff, his community, and our network. Eric utilizes his deep empathy for his neighbors who struggle with hunger to help amplify their stories and in the process unites and inspires people across the nation to rally in support,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. “Additionally, Eric is steadfast in his commitment to finding innovative solutions. He pushes himself, his team, and his peers to continuously strive day in and day out to do even more knowing that only together can we truly end hunger in America."

With a mission to advance change in America by ensuring equitable access to nutritious food for all, Feeding America is a network of 200 member food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that provide food assistance to more than 40 million people each year. In the wake of the pandemic, food banks reported an average of 55% increase in need. Collectively, the network of food banks distributed the equivalent of 6.1 billion meals to people in need last year, a record for the organization.


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About Feeding America

Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, we provide meals to more than 40 million people each year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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