The Path Not Taken
Dave Green's road to social impact started on the trail.
“When I was in my twenties, I was thinking about paying my student loans and trying to be successful, but I reached a point where I hit a wall and I was questioning, ‘Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I so discontent with my life right now?’ Asking those tough questions led me to the trail.”
The “trail” in question is 2,650 rugged miles from Mexico to Canada through desert, snow, and mountains known as the Pacific Crest Trail. And the man in question, Dave Green, is explaining the trajectory that took him from self-absorbed tech executive to purpose-driven hunger pioneer, running the wildly successful Feeding Children Everywhere.
“I just wanted something greater, something more, so I quit my job, gave away everything I owned, and set out for the adventure of a lifetime. I had literally zero experience to be outdoors… I’d meet other hikers and they’d ask me, ‘Is this a quick hike?’ And I’d be like ‘Nope! Hiking all the way to Canada!’ They’d look at me and my gear and smile – it was pretty clear I had all the wrong stuff.”
At that point, many people would start to question their decision…
“There were definitely some people in my life that were like ‘Are you crazy, you’re quitting a great job to go do this!’ But the crazy part was [that] the company [eventually] collapsed, along with so many other financial institutions [at that time in 2008] and so the reality is, I wouldn’t have had a job in 3 or 4 months anyway. It makes me question how many times in life do we put aside our dreams – that big idea or crazy idea for the safe choice – or what seems like the safe choice – rather than the bold choice?”
Luckily the naysayers weren’t loud enough to put the brakes on destiny.
“The big lesson for me on that journey was that I realized that if I really wanted to be fulfilled in my life, then [my life] had to become about serving others. It was more about a heart change that happened in me, that no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s for selfish or selfless motives, it about doing things that are going to make a difference. Having that realization is definitely what put my life on a different course.”
It makes me question how many times in life do we put aside our dreams for what seems like the safe choice?
Fast forward ten years later, David Green is being honored as Central Floridian of the Year for his work leading one of the largest volunteer projects in US history, assembling over 54,000 volunteers to package over 4.4 million disaster response meal kits in the wake of Puerto Rico’s devastating Hurricane Maria. Last year in total, Feeding Children Everywhere hosted over 480 projects with 180,000 volunteers to provide 26.5 million meals for children and families in need. And to hear Green talk about it, he’s just getting started. Not bad for a novice hiker with no direction…
As a young man, Dave and his family struggled at times to get by. His father was a mechanic who owned a small auto repair business in a rural area, and they had months here and there that were less than fruitful. Some of Dave’s earliest years were spent eating whatever game his father was able to shoot and kill.
“My dad was is a great example of how the narrative in the US is really wrong about who actually needs food assistance. You had a guy who was working as hard as he could to support his family – entrepreneurial, started a business – and ultimately entered a situation where he wasn’t able to bring enough money in. He just needed some assistance for a little while – certainly not because he was lazy or not trying hard enough.”
But because his income was intermittent, Green’s father wasn’t able to predict his yearly income, and the family was repeatedly denied government food assistance. “He was rejected because he didn’t fit the system.”
Hunger can happen to anyone
Green laments that this still happens all across the country today. “One of the most common [issues] we have is people who are struggling through a health crisis. When you look at them on paper, they might have a job that pays them plenty of money, they might have had a great year income-wise but now all of a sudden they’re in a situation where they can’t work and they don’t check the right boxes for food assistance, but they desperately need it.”
“For me personally, my own background gives me the ability to empathize and to know that those are people that we need to be helping and we do everything we can to help. Hunger can happen to anyone.”
When Dave finally emerged from the wilderness in 2009 to pursue his newfound purpose, he held on tight to the tech roots of his previous career, quickly zero-ing in on Feeding Children Everywhere as an outlet for his drive – primarily because of the willingness of its founder, Don Campbell, to try something different.
“A lot of what exists in the non-profit world, to me, is still a lot of status quo – things that haven’t adapted or evolved much in the last 50 years or so. When I met Don, I could tell this was somebody who was ready to do things in a different way…. [He was] ready to innovate, ready to create with new ideas, and create real transformation. It just seemed like the exact right fit.”
As Dave worked his way up the ranks to eventually take over as CEO, he was able to help steer Feeding Children Everywhere into the mobile era, creating an app that allows those in need of food assistance to to fill out an application online and, once approved, receive a box right to their front door in about one business day.
Green claims that not only is it more efficient and cost-effective than the traditional food bank model, which is often riddled with various middle men, it is better for the environment as well. FED 40, as it’s known, is currently available in 17 states with plans to roll out nationwide by the end of 2018.
But because Dave has an innate understanding of the types of people who are on food assistance – namely people just like you and I – he refuses to stop there.
“Other than just the impact of getting food right to people’s front door, the biggest thing from it is, we’re also giving people the ability to request help with job skills, computer skills, English as a second language, and we’re in the pilot stage of a program to help teach people how to start their own business. People who are coming to us for food – we’re going to help them connect to these other things.
“Over 6 in 10 people are saying ‘I want to do whatever it takes to better my life and better myself and get out of the situation i’m in.’ That just completely contrasts the popular narrative that these are people who are taking advantage of the system.”
It’s a narrative that Dave wants to overturn and replace. In the same way he overturned traditional food bank models and replaced it with a more efficient model, he wants to overturn the way we understand people in need.
“These are people who want to have a better life just like you and I do. [And] whatever they’re struggling with, if we can help them create self-sufficiency, that’s the biggest win.”
- What is an important fact about yourself that isn’t on the internet?
How much I love my family.
- What is the most valuable piece of advice your parents ever taught you?
My dad teaching me to work hard.
- What is the BEST thing about being Dave Green?
Wow. I get to meet so many incredible people, who just have amazing hearts and are just absolute world changers.
- What is the WORST thing about being Dave Green?
Unfortunately, being in the food assistance world, sometimes I get around some pretty dark stuff. Of people really struggling with some pretty dark stuff in their lives. That can be tough sometimes because you want to help everybody, you want to do everything you can to help, and sometimes you just can’t.
- What fictional character do you identify with and why?
It’s going to sound funny but Wonder Woman, man. The character of Wonder Woman and her part for justice. Injustice is something that just motivates me to action immediately, to make a difference. I would say that Wonder Woman is kind of defined by, where there’s injustice, or a threat to peace, or a threat to stability, that’s when Wonder Woman is at her best, and I’d say for me personally, that’s when I’m at my best as well. When there’s injustice, you can bet I’m going to be right there trying to help.