AUBURN — Good Shepherd Food-Bank has announced that the agency's president and CEO will step down at the end of the year.
The board of directors for Maine's largest hunger relief organization has accepted Rick Small's resignation. Small led the nonprofit organization for the past five and a half years.
"Rick Small has led Good Shepherd through a time of significant growth and change, and we are profoundly grateful for his leadership and dedication to feeding Maine's hungry," board Chairwoman Diane Dunton Bruni said in a prepared statement. She said the board would immediately begin a nationwide search for a new CEO.
Small, who earns more than $70,000 a year, said he was leaving Good Shepherd "to utilize my skills and abilities in another substantial challenge to round out my career. The Food Bank will always remain close to my heart and I will support this great organization in all ways that are possible."
Good Shepherd solicits and distributes surplus food to more than 600 partner agencies.
During Small's tenure, the amount of food the agency acquires and distributes to 600 partner agencies throughout Maine has grown from nearly 9 million pounds a year to about 13 million pounds, but the need to feed Maine's hungry continues to grow.
Since Small joined the food bank in 2006, the operating budget has grown from $1.3 million to $6 million per year, most of which is raised through private donations. Staff increased from 35 employees in 2006 to 54 this year.
A cloud of controversy involving shrinking supply, increasing demand and higher prices settled over the agency this summer. Local food pantries started speaking out and demanding changes at the organization.
Several nonprofit food pantry operators questioned shared maintenance fees for some products purchased by the food bank to offset the significant loss of salvage goods.
For years, Good Shepherd was the recipient of salvage items donated by major supermarkets and retail stores, and in turn sold items to partner agencies for 16 cents a pound. But with salvage items becoming more scarce, the agency buys products at wholesale prices and provides the food to the pantries for a maintenance fee, which in some cases averages as much as $2 a pound.
That fee is too high, according to food pantry operators, including Pastor Tom Bruce, who operates Living Word Community Food Cupboard in Dover-Foxcroft.
"No one really likes to see anyone resign," Bruce said Tuesday of Small's resignation. "I would have rather seen changes than to have people resign."
Bruce said operators of food pantries across the state have been meeting regularly since the summer to discuss recent changes at the food bank and how they could best address them.
In addition to calling on the agency to return to its original vision of feeding the poor, Bruce called on corporations and supermarkets to return to that same vision.
"When you're thinking of running a nonprofit organization in a way that makes a profit, then there's something wrong with that," Bruce said.
He said he would like to see more food pantry operators on the Good Shepherd Food-Bank board of directors. He strongly believes their representation could help guide decisions about the agencies the food bank is meant to help.
But Lt. Jason Brake of the Salvation Army in Lewiston said the issue relates more to the nation's economy. Brake agreed that it's getting more difficult to stock the emergency food pantry shelves in downtown Lewiston, but he pointed out how donations are down everywhere, including at the food bank.
"Yes, they have less and there has not been as much to choose from, but I just think that's the way of the economy," Brake said.