In today’s economic climate, it seems that when we pursue cost effective options, we many times end up sacrificing the quality of what it is that we need. Nowhere is this practice more prevalent than the food industry. Too often, the options that are either the most affordable or free to the public are among the least nutritious. It begs the question: why should good, clean, nutritious food be a luxury? Companies like Oakland, California-based Revolution Foods have a simple answer: it shouldn’t.
Revolution Foods, a two-time participant in ICIC’s Inner City Capital Connections program and four-time recipient of an Inner City 100 award, was founded by Kristin Groos Richmond and Kristen Saenz Tobey in 2006. Since its founding, the company has designed, produced, and delivered close to 500 million healthy meals across 23 states to a plethora of community feeding programs, childhood education centers, districts, charter schools, senior programs and after school youth programs.
For young activists hungry to impact their communities this way, many ask where to start to affect this kind of positive change.
According to Tobey, many of our federal programs that already exist can stand to be improved, which is a great place to begin. She says, “I think actually more important is the idea—and this is something that’s kind of in real time happening now this year—mainly because of some things that happened related to the pandemic that all kids could get free meals at school. A couple of states have now committed to making that a long-term program so that school meals will just be free for all kids. And I think there’s been some pushback saying, ‘why should the federal government pay for rich kids to have meals?’ Kids will always have the option to bring food from home. I think what happens when you have all kids being able to get free meals is that it completely eliminates the stigma of [eating lunch from the school]. And so, I think it’s really important right now because there’s a real time example of this happening for people to be advocating to expand the universal free meal program in the long term from the federal government side.”
Well over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat to children’s access to daily meals persists. Revolution Foods has worked tirelessly through this tumultuous time to make sure at-risk children not only don’t go hungry, but have access to healthy, chef-crafted, culturally relevant meals.
“When the pandemic first hit and schools shut down, we really feared that we were going to lose most of our business overnight because we didn’t know what was going to happen with schools providing meals and whether they were going to be able to. But very quickly, school districts and school communities rallied to find ways to get food to families despite kids being at home,” says Tobey. “So, we did a lot of pivoting and innovating on packaging formats and delivery formats to be able to get three meals a day to kids in bulk boxes through either bus routes, or through school-based pickups.”
School meal programs were not all Revolution Foods supported during the pandemic. The company was able to team up with community initiatives to feed homebound seniors, struggling families, and even partnered with restaurants to get healthy meals to anyone who needed them.
Following a $60 million funding round led by investors at the national level, the company recently announced that their corporate structure was converted to a Delaware Public Benefit Corporation (PBC). This conversion will ensure that their operations remain sustainable, and that social impact continues to be at the forefront of their desired outputs.
“As a PBC, now we have baked into our corporate governance a responsibility to continue providing high-quality meals to underserved communities,” says Tobey. “Of course, we can also expand into other communities, but staying true to our mission is now something that our board, our investors, and our stakeholders can now hold us accountable to in a much more formalized way.”
Tobey also recommends that this conversion be something other ICIC-affiliated companies explore if they have not already. She says, “It’s an emerging, but really important trend in corporate governance.”
And as the nation has seen especially over the activism-fueled past year and a half, staying true to your mission, and persisting in the face of adversity is what will yield the best results.
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