Long before most people had even heard the term social entrepreneurship, Thomas Ferraro was practicing it. Indeed, when Mr. Ferraro received the inaugural Farash Prize for Social Entrepreneurship in October 2010, he had been at the helm of Foodlink Inc. for more than 35 years.
Mr. Ferraro, who died this week, had “an unquenchable passion for addressing the societal injustices that kept individuals in poverty and struggling to feed their families,” said Julia Tedesco, Foodlink’s chief development and communications officer and part of the co-executive that now will lead the organization.
What truly set Mr. Ferraro apart, though, was his passion for pursuing innovative solutions to the problems of poverty and hunger. As he wrote in Foodlink’s latest annual report, “we’re focused on strategies that go beyond charity.”
Mr. Ferraro started Foodlink—then called the Genesee Valley Regional Food Clearinghouse—in the late 1970s. Early on, he formed a partnership with Wegmans Food Markets Inc. that was crucial to Foodlink’s development.
In 1980, not long after starting his own organization, Mr. Ferraro helped to launch the national food bank network known today as Feeding America. In the 1990s, Foodlink began one of the nation’s first Kids Cafe programs, which provides healthy meals to some 3,000 schoolchildren each weekday. The organization also provides job training through its workforce development initiative.
Since its founding, Foodlink estimates, it has distributed more than 160 million pounds of food. Its regional network today rescues and distributes some 16 million pounds annually.
Charity Navigator gives Foodlink—which has grown to be a nearly $30 million organization—a coveted four-star rating and calculates that 96 percent of its budget is spent on the programs and services it delivers.
Like any skilled entrepreneur, Mr. Ferraro knew that not every venture would succeed. After a seven-year run, Foodlink ended its Freshwise Farms organic greenhouse operation in 2012, shifting resources to more viable programs serving pressing needs.
So Mr. Ferraro’s legacy is an organization that’s both financially stable and sustainable, and a true innovator. That accomplishment hopefully will inspire many others.
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