A look back at how we’ve helped this critical nonprofit in the past and how we continue to do so during the pandemic despite the challenges of social distancing.
The pandemic and need for social distancing has limited the kind of personal, boots-on-the-ground, hands-on volunteer work that’s fundamental to how many of us give back to our communities and critical causes around the world, especially during the annual June Global Volunteer Month.
For us, it’s usually a time to bring the full force of the entire firm to bear on issues we have focused on long term, such as children’s health and fighting hunger, by augmenting the dedication, resources and reach of charitable partners like Feeding America. As we find new ways to stay involved, we also look back on the work of some of our employees who have contributed over the past decade and more to support this organization in its crucial mission—now even more important than ever.
Everything's bigger in Texas, it's said. That includes the 308,000-square-foot Houston Food Bank, the largest in the U.S., and its platoons of volunteers who collect, prepare and distribute food to 18 local counties. This year, as the effects of COVID-19 ripple through the community, the need is bigger than ever. Indeed, in just one day last month, the food bank and its partners distributed a record 750,000 pounds of food.1
Matt Kabot has seen that need close up. A Managing Director and Houston Complex Manager with Morgan Stanley’s Wealth Management division, Kabot has volunteered at the food bank for 16 years, the past 11 through Morgan Stanley’s partnership with Feeding America. He recalls a visit last year when he and his team of co-workers diced bacon for soup and sliced watermelon on the side. By day’s end, “we had cut up enough watermelon and bacon for 13,000 meals,” he says. “The scope of this initiative to help combat food insecurity throughout our community—it’s just amazing.”
It’s but one example of the immense challenge of feeding millions of food-insecure families across the country, many of whom are struggling more than ever. That’s the core mission of Feeding America, which has been fighting food insecurity not only during this latest crisis but for more than 35 years. This year marks the 11th anniversary of Morgan Stanley’s partnership with Feeding America and its network of 200 food banks. Like Matt Kabot, thousands of the firm’s employees from offices across the country have volunteered over the years at local food banks, totaling more than 108,000 hours of service.
This year, in response to pandemic, the firm has raised its commitment to local food banks and meal programs across the U.S. to help those most in need. The Hunger Relief Campaign initiative includes a dollar-for-dollar employee contribution match (up to $5,000 per employee), and brings the firm’s commitment to support COVID-19 relief efforts to $25 million. “I have challenged my complex to use the firm match to reach a goal of $45,000 in donations to the Houston Food Bank,” says Kabot, who adds that he and his colleagues feel the urgency to donate more than ever because they can’t physically volunteer right now, as they typically would.
Jason Habel, a Vice President and Financial Advisor in Morgan Stanley’s Richmond Branch Office, discovered the work that Feeding America does when he became involved with the FeedMore food bank in the wake of another crisis that raised food insecurity for more people across the country: the financial crisis of 2008 and the recession that followed.
“Through my college alumni group, I worked at career fairs several times a year to help those who were unemployed and underemployed to land jobs. A lot of these people saw an opportunity. They said, ‘You know what? We don’t have 9-to-5 jobs now, let’s volunteer weekly at the food bank.’ I started volunteering with them, and I got my Morgan Stanley co-workers involved, too,” Habel says.
It’s something they still do more than a decade later. During that period, the food bank also launched other initiatives, such as the School Market program designed to help combat weekend childhood hunger affecting impoverished school-aged children, a program that Morgan Stanley helped fund and expand. “We’re not a big branch, but I love that we have so many people who have come out over the years to help out,” says Habel.
Zi Fang got the call on a Sunday in March from the U.S. Army New York National Guard’s 427th Support Battalion. The next morning, she was leading a squad of soldiers, ready to help New York City fight Coronavirus.
Fang, an Executive Director in Firm Risk Management, has been a member of the U.S. Army since 2018, graduating from Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson (SC) and Advanced Training with distinct honor from Fort Lee (VA) in 2019. These days, she is stationed in Manhattan and working across all the boroughs, helping with logistics and security at COVID-19 testing sites and food distribution centers, which has helped to deliver more than 100,000 meals a day to New York City’s most vulnerable residents. These include senior citizens and others with pre-existing health conditions, who were advised not to go out, as well as individuals with disabilities.
“To help get food to people’s doors is very meaningful,” says Fang. “We know it’s a problem, but until you see it, you can’t truly understand how many people are in need.”
Often working more than 12 hours each day on her feet at various sites around New York City has given Fang new “realization and appreciation” of how many people work behind the scenes to make our normal life happen. “When society works normally, there are so many conveniences that we take for granted,” she says. “I realize that we all should be thankful.”
Kabot feels the same way. “There’s a never-ending need, and it’s humbling to work for a firm that allows us not only to take care of our own families, but to give back in this way to people who find just putting food on the table to be a daunting challenge. It’s humbling and it’s grounding and it’s very rewarding for everybody involved.”