We had a hard time identifying just one quote from the nomination of Melissa Hill, finalist for ELEVATE 2020’s Nonprofit Employee of the Year Award. So we just had to share two extremely impressive passages that illustrate just how integral she is to the Gleaners family, as well as an unsung hero to hundreds of thousands of food insecure individuals and families in central Indiana and beyond.
Hi, Melissa. First tell us a little bit about yourself and the work of Gleaners.
A: Hi! Well, I grew up in Indianapolis. I love it here. It’s big enough to have lots to do – but not overwhelming – and is a great place to raise my boys, ages 13 and 10. I admire how much our city takes care of those who are underserved. I love to volunteer – with my church, homeless shelters and just about anywhere I can help others. I have a degree from IUPUI in Organizational Leadership and Supervision and have been at Gleaners since 2012. Before I started there, I thought of Gleaners as food pantry. I like to share that with others who might have that misconception too. It’s actually a food bank – a 300,000 sq. ft. distribution center. Last year about $42 million lbs went through our center.
Q: What’s the best part of your job?
A: At Gleaners I have the privilege to be the voice of the employees who are ultimately serving those in the community. My perspective is that if we take good care of our employees, they’ll be able to take better care of our neighbors. Also, I love our partnerships. Whenever I’m interacting with other nonprofits or on college campuses, I’m looking to looking to them to connect me with future employees, opportunities for skill-building, and potential volunteer pools.
On establishing and growing critical community partnerships…
“Melissa co-leads the board Governance & Nominating Committee and has substantially improved board professionalism, level of engagement and diversity, including four first-ever under 40 board members. Melissa also built new partnerships with Teen Works (at risk youth in Indianapolis), Keys2Work (ex-offenders), the Burmese Association, the International Center and the Immigrant Welcome Center. Working with an Eli Lilly global HR leader, Melissa started early, mid and late career self-governing groups. Working with our chief philanthropy officer and several young employees, Melissa helped establish the first young professionals donor group in Gleaners history. She worked with St. Vincent Health when built a clinic next to our on-site food pantry to ensure employees could also access their services. Melissa, working with the first-ever dietitian at an Indiana food bank (hired by Melissa), supports that dietitian’s Gleaners internship program every semester for both IU and Purdue. “
Q: Not often you see someone under 40 who has a valued seat on a senior leadership team AND has already accomplished huge success in the organization. What would you say to another young professional who has their sights set on nonprofit leadership?
Don’t underestimate yourself. Don’t give up. I’ve been faced with projects that were daunting and overwhelming at times. I’ve put in many, many hours. But, seeing the individuals standing in line for food keeps me motivated. So, I’d also suggest find what it is about your work that keeps you motivated.
On being a phenomenal Gleaners team member…
“We are entrusting young, talented employees with an unusual amount of responsibility as quickly as they prove they can handle it – and it is not only benefiting the organization and the employees we serve – our staff turnover dropped by 57% from fiscal 2016 to 2019, especially our youngest employees. Melissa now has primary responsibility for quarterly all-employee meetings, mandatory training and other key meetings. Employees treat her as both a formal and informal leader and an advocate for their needs.”
Q: What’s next for Gleaners? What can we expect in the next few years?
A: We’d like to put an emphasis on having more fresh produce and nutritious food in our bank and in banks across the midwest. I’m talking about fruit, meat and milk, which are typically unconventional items at food banks. We want to stay in our lane and feed hungry folks, but we also need to do our part to help people get out of that line. Partnering with other nonprofits will be critical. I’m excited.
We’re excited, too, Melissa. Great work!