Melissa Sobolik at Food Bank

Melissa Sobolik ’02
Major: Political Science

What responsibilities come along with your position as president of the Great Plains Food Bank?

It’s a newly created position that focuses on external relationships/partnerships, advocacy, root cause work, and philanthropy. This role really is the connection point between new, innovative ideas to end hunger and its root causes.

What is your favorite aspect of your work?

I get to change the world. Every. Single. Day.

After 12 years at the food bank, no two days are alike! Or boring! That’s what has kept me here for so long. I love that every day is a new challenge, full of opportunities to be innovative. We are a collaborative organization by nature – knowing that we, alone, will never solve hunger. I love finding new “courageous collaborations” that can help move the needle on improving the lives of those who struggle with hunger.

Great Plains Food Bank has a culture of innovation and taking calculated risks to positively change the world for our clients. Being able to try new programs or ideas has been incredibly powerful and rewarding – even when we fail. Failure just means you are one step closer to success.

Melissa Sobolik working at Great Plains Food Bank

What is the mission of the Great Plains Food Bank?

Great Plains Food Bank started 36 years ago with the purpose to recover surplus food that was going to waste. During our first year, we recovered 189,000 pounds and saved it from the landfill. Thirty-six years later, we are recovering 14 million pounds of food! The USDA estimates that 27% of the food produced in the U.S. never reaches the dinner table; that’s good, quality food that never gets made into a meal. If you add in individual plate waste – that jumps up to 40% of food being wasted. At the same time, millions of families are going hungry. Our mission is to end hunger through community partnerships. We are the only food bank in the state of North Dakota and also serve Clay County, Minn.

How does the Great Plains Food Bank serve the community?

The food bank model is a collaborative, community-based one. The food bank recovers surplus food, brings it into our warehouse, and puts it on an online shopping list. Then partner agencies (food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters) place an order for food/product that they can use. We then pack their order, load it onto our truck, and deliver it to their door once a month.

We work with more than 200 partner agencies in all corners of the state. In 2008, we also started our own direct service programs (BackPack Program, Mobile Food Pantry) to fill in gaps in service. We now operate several of our own direct service programs aimed to reach kids, seniors, and rural residents.

How did you originally get involved with the Great Plains Food Bank?

I started in November 2007 as the director of Member Services. A few years later, my position was renamed the director of Programs and Agency Relations. Then I switched roles and served as the director of Ending Hunger 2.0 before being promoted to president in July 2019.

Melissa Sobolik at Food Bank

How did your time at Concordia prepare you for the work that you do today?

Having a liberal arts background prepared me in ways I never could have predicted – professionally and personally. While my degree was in political science, Concordia gave me a holistic, well-rounded education. I’ve found that no matter where I’ve worked, you never only wear one hat; you’re expected to juggle many different roles and responsibilities.

The class I loved and learned the most from was Principia. Even though I think that course has shifted, it taught me to think differently and ask better questions – which opened many doors and opportunities for me.

Are there ways that Concordia students can get involved with the Great Plains Food Bank?

Absolutely! We have many volunteer opportunities (from packing food in the warehouse to office work, to handing out food boxes in rural communities), opportunities to donate food and/or funds (hosting a food drive or a virtual food drive), and using your voice to advocate for policy change. You can learn more about these opportunities (and more!) at GreatPlainsFoodBank.org.