Speaker announcement: Thinking outside of the food box

By TEDxSalem Storyteller, June 28, 2013

Rick Gaupo

Rick Gaupo

Rick Gaupo walked onto the campus of Willamette University with a leather briefcase in hand. He walked out with a backpack.

Because his first gig wasn’t at a law or corporate office, where he may have ended up if he had followed his initial intentions to study management and law. His first position was actually a volunteer building homes in rural Georgia, with Habitat for Humanity.

Ever since, he has committed his life to nonprofits and meeting people’s physical needs. And at TEDxSalem, Rick will share some of his perspectives gained from two decades of nonprofit leadership.

As a 26-year-old, Rick became the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the Mid-Willamette Valley, when the organization could only afford one quarter-time staffer. He was it.

Fifteen years later, he left the organization with $4 million in assets — 100 times more than when he started.

Today, he is the president of Marion-Polk Food Share, the regional food bank that distributes food to hungry people through nearly 100 community pantries and meal sites.

That’s the traditional definition of what the Food Share does as well as what food banks everywhere have been doing forever. But in Salem, Rick and his team are thinking outside of the emergency food box.

The Food Share has multiple initiatives occurring that you likely will not find at other food banks. It is farming hundreds of acres of land and testing three crops of quinoa. It’s making protein patties and partnering with incarcerated youths to do so. It’s running vocational training and community gardens.

The Food Share is showing the Salem community how dreaming big can lead to greater impact.

If your main engagement with the Food Share is donating canned food every once in a while, no worries. That will not go away, Rick says. But that isn’t close to covering all of its efforts that boil down to feeding the hungry and preventing future hunger.

As the work of the food bank changes, the larger community could also change the way it thinks of hunger and what it can do to help. Food drives may become less of a focus.

“Maybe someday the donated food would be the smaller part,” he said. “The larger part would be the farm, a produce stand or a restaurant.”


Name: Rick Gaupo

Born in: Portland

Occupation: President at Marion-Polk Food Share

Spot him: On a dragon boat this weekend at the World Beat Festival!

Family: Wife, Elizabeth, and two children, Holden, 15; and Isabela, 10

Ask him about: The uber romantic, 17-day motorcycle trip Rick and Elizabeth took with sleeping bags and little money post-college. The route took them south on California Highway 1 all the way to Tijuana, Mexico, then back up via Highway 395.

— Saerom Yoo, TEDxSalem storyteller