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Matt Smith
Food For Good

In this week’s episode, we are speaking with Matt Smith, Sr. Director of PepsiCo Foundation which supports programs designed to improve availability of affordable nutrition. Matt and Jonathan speak on a variety of topics which all take root in his belief that you don’t have to separate business and doing good. We dig into philosophy, poverty, children’s dependence on school meals and how they use Pepsi’s infrastructure to deliver on their mission.

Matt’s journey started when he realized that he did not have to separate work from a greater purpose. He had the opportunity to come to PepsiCo initially focused on environmental sustainability which led him to Food For Good. As his career and life has advanced, he uses his personal faith to help guide his direction. We talk about how he feels a particular responsibility to use his privilege to lift voices and provide change to the larger system.

They talk about how the homeless have always been a focus for Matt. As a college student, he and his friends would invite a homeless person to Subway, pay for their meal and then engage in conversation with them. He ended up calling this organization FEAST – family eats at the same table. Through this experience, he learned that a lot of charity causes dependency instead of empowerment. This was further reinforced when he read the book, When Helping Hurts.

He has continued to honor and elevate the point of view of the folks he’s serving. Jonathan and Matt talk about how their original name for Food For Good was Project Hope. When they screened the people they were serving, they realized that it was not successful because those screened felt that their lives are not a project, that the name lacked commitment. This feedback helped them ask questions differently to their internal team.

Twenty two million kids require free or reduced cost lunches at school. Of that group, a small fraction, 3-4 million, are getting food when not in school. In the US there are government programs that will fund 2-3 meals a day for after school and they found that people are not accessing those. To help with that demand, Food For Good is working with the government and their own logistics chain to get it to those in need. They discuss how the USDA funds after school food programs through state agencies and into nonprofits or school districts. They started with City Square more than 12 years ago. City Square gets funds, has 100 sites across Dallas but needs help with the logistics. Food For Good bid on those contracts at cost, then call in supplier partners from Pepsico to bring all costs down as low as possible.

When developing the distribution inside the neighborhoods, they needed to talk to partners to understand where the best places to be – i.e. being in a park vs inside the grounds of public housing.

The book, When Helping Hurts, asks, what is poverty? The data shows that people who have experience poverty as psychological terms – embarrassed, ashamed and not empowered. If those who have material things address poverty by giving those same material things to them, it may be the most embarrassing and dehumanizing thing you can do for that person. He realized there are more dignifying and empowering ways to adjust systems from long embarrassing and inaccessible food lines. No Kid Hungry found that missing breakfast makes it harder to pay attention. Those who miss meals perform poorly on tests, have more behavioral issues and are suspended more frequently. Matt wants Food For Good to be a meal which allows a kid to be successful.

They close the episode discussing purpose and passion. Matt believes it starts with purpose and passion is what’s visible. When he’s looking for people, he’s looking for people who are rooted in purpose and passion, but also need people who are excellent – an incredible communicator who is also purposeful and passionate, strategic and logistically & innovatively savvy. Expertise and excellence is something we can’t separate.