Less is more when it comes to food waste. There is so much viable, usable, nutritious food that ends up in the landfill. Contact your local Feeding America chapter to find out how you can increase the number of food rescue routes they have. Find ways to support their efforts on an individual or corporate level. Our partnership with Feeding San Diego and The Salvation Army rescues 30,000 lbs of food a month. That’s a lot of food that gets to people that need it.

In many parts of the United States, there is a crisis caused by people having limited access to healthy & affordable food options. This in turn is creating a host of health and social problems. What exactly is a food desert? What causes a food desert? What are the secondary and tertiary problems that are created by a food desert? How can this problem be solved? Who are the leaders helping to address this crisis?

In this interview series, called “Food Deserts: How We Are Helping To Address The Problem of People Having Limited Access to Healthy & Affordable Food Options” we are talking to business leaders and non-profit leaders who can share the initiatives they are leading to address and solve the problem of food deserts.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Drew Moser.

Drew Moser is the Executive Director of the Lucky Duck Foundation, which raises money to fund, activate and lead high-impact programs that alleviate the suffering of homelessness throughout San Diego. Prior to that, he was the Executive Director of the San Diego Hall of Champions and San Diego Sports Association. He earned a Business degree and MBA from the University of Redlands, where he also played basketball for the Bulldogs, and finds great fulfillment in facilitating the generosity of donors to positively impact those in need.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I came to San Diego to coach college basketball after playing my entire childhood and through college. Through that, teamwork had been ingrained in me since I was in kindergarten, if not before. After leaving coaching I worked for the San Diego Hall of Champions, which recognizes local athletic excellence and provides sports programs for military and at-risk youth. I was able to get to know and work with some really great people in town. I also met some businesspeople who decided to take it upon themselves to help San Diego’s homeless situation via the Lucky Duck Foundation. I totally respected and admired what they were doing and how they were going about it — through teamwork and caring only about results, not credit, which is a sign of really great teams. I told them it was my goal to someday write checks like they can, and in the meantime if I could give them what time and little talent I had to support their cause, that I would be happy to help. So, I volunteered for LDF for a year or so before formally joining as their Executive Director.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Given my athletic background, I was regularly inspired by good players and coaches who made great plays, won a lot of games or had illustrious careers. And I got to meet and spend time with a lot of recognizable people. It was fun, motivating, and inspiring. Now, when I meet and hear the personal stories of what some folks have gone through in becoming homeless and then clawing their way out of it, it is not only motivating and inspiring, but it can also be heartbreaking, yet emotional and uplifting and I often find that to be more amazing, gritty and inspiring than athletic prowess and accomplishment, and more importantly, I want to do everything in my power to help more people write similar stories for themselves.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I felt like I gained traction when I was elevated to the Acting Executive Director role at the San Diego Hall of Champions. I went from reporting to one boss to reporting to a Board of Directors who were successful and practical businesspeople. I really valued learning directly from them about how they tackled issues and did so by employing sound business principles based on honesty, humility, and following the facts. I think ultimately many issues, whether in business, politics, societal or otherwise can be most effectively addressed using sound business principles and common sense.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by so many supportive people. In no particular order, my parents continue to have a deep and profound influence on my life. My younger brother (who I used to be able to call my little brother until he outgrew me by 4 inches and 40 pounds) is full of wisdom and insight and always energizes me. My wife is extremely supportive and has been with me basically since my career started and always gives me great perspective and encouragement. And our Board of Directors is full of people I consider mentors. I often feel like, as Russell Conwell said, that I am “standing in the middle of my own Acres of Diamonds.”

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Probably a consistent, even-keeled demeanor; an ability to work with most personalities; and trying to be a servant leader and putting the cause before myself. When Covid-19, we had to act quickly to help those in need. And thanks to the vision and generosity of Gwendolyn Sontheim and the Aqualia International Foundation, LTD, and some active and generous members of our board, we were able to pull together the right partners to launch the program by feeding 400 people per day. Gwendolyn’s vision and generosity inspired others to give, and once the program was off the ground, we were able to expand it rather quickly. Now, the program reaches over 1,000 people daily and more than 750,000 meals have been distributed to date.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love the Zig Ziglar quote, “It’s your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude.” It goes very nicely with “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” Like just about everyone, my career path or journey has not been a straight line, but rather all sorts of twists, turns, uncertainties and pleasant surprises. What I’ve observed with most successful people is they’re not afraid to fail and when they do, they get back up and keep moving forward and do so with a positive attitude. Moreover, they don’t take themselves seriously, but rather they take their work seriously. And ultimately their attitude (as opposed to their expertise or technical know-how) is what brings them success and fulfillment. Plus, “it’s your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude” gives me some reassurance because the only time I’m the smartest person in the room is when I’m alone!

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about Food Deserts. I know this is intuitive to you, but it will be helpful to expressly articulate this for our readers. Can you please tell us what exactly a food desert is? Does it mean there are places in the US where you can’t buy food?

A food desert is basically when people have limited access to nourishment. It can mean a lot of things, but basically it involves high levels of poverty and/or limited access or proximity to grocery stores.

Can you help explain a few of the social consequences that arise from food deserts? What are the secondary and tertiary problems that are created by a food desert?

According to the San Diego Hunger Coalition, it’s estimated that over 1,000,000 people face hunger regularly throughout San Diego County. Of this, nearly 280,000 are estimated to be children under the age of 18. That’s over a quarter of a million kids going to school without proper nutrition. Much research has been done to understand the correlation between poor nutrition from the lack of access to food and development delays in young children. Additionally, there is a risk of chronic illness like asthma and anemia, and behavioral issues such as anxiety and hyperactivity. When youth start out a few steps behind because of food insecurity, it can be difficult for them to overcome and ultimately could affect their long-term ability to succeed.

Where did this crisis come from? Can you briefly explain to our readers what brought us to this place?

San Diego’s food desert hit a peak because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Congregate settings, places of worship, shelters, and food kitchens were forced to close, leaving homeless people with very little access to the meals they relied on. Furthermore, many people lost their jobs or were placed on leave. The San Diego Hunger Coalition estimates that last year, 1 in 3 San Diegans were unable to provide 3 nutritious meals a day for themselves or their families. This is up from 1 in 4 in 2019.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact to address this crisis? Can you share some of the initiatives you are leading to help correct this issue?

When community feedings and meal services for homeless individuals went away due to COVID-19, a very generous and quiet benefactor in Gwendolyn Sontheim and the Aqualia International Foundation, LTD, envisioned a program that would provide food and water to unsheltered homeless San Diegans. The program objectives are twofold: to provide life-saving calories and hydration when very few resources exist, and, to support homeless individuals’ efforts to end their homelessness. The program launched in May 2020, distributing food and water to 400 people per day. We’ve grown the program and it now reaches more than 1,000 people per day. More than 750,000 meals have been distributed to date and we are on pace to eclipse 1,000,000 meals in November.

Another effort we launched is a collaboration with Feeding San Diego and The Salvation Army to hire Salvation Army shelter residents to train them to be food rescue route drivers. The collaboration employs individuals experiencing homelessness to rescue perfectly viable food from retailers, grocery stores, restaurants, and warehouses and redistribute it to people experiencing homelessness or on the brink. This collaboration not only addresses food insecurity, but it also addresses employment instability. With funding from our Employment and Job Training Program (more on that later), The Salvation Army employs residents of their shelter as drivers to operate eight different routes to rescue about 30,000 lbs. of food per month and more than 380,000 lbs. to date. The program is a win/win/win for countless San Diegans.

Unstable employment is a common obstacle for people attempting to break the cycle of homelessness. In February 2020 we kicked-off a 1 million dollars region-wide employment and jobs training initiative to hire and provide job training for people experiencing homelessness. The program gets participants job-ready and provides them with necessary training to secure long-term employment. Funding both expanded existing programs and launched new programs across several verticals, including food rescue, culinary skills, homeless outreach, community beautification work, Transition Age Youth (TAY) support services, and intensive job training. By providing access to training and employment, the program helps individuals better provide for themselves and their families.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

At LDF, we don’t care who gets credit. The most important thing that we concern ourselves with is generating results. This attitude starts with our co-founders Pat & Stephanie Kilkenny who are incredibly generous yet humble and that attitude permeates through to the Board of Directors, the Tuesday Group (a group of a group of fact-based business and civic leaders committed to leading San Diego to “best practices” in all areas of homelessness that has met weekly for more than 5 years every Tuesday and has never missed a Tuesday including Christmas and New Year’s Day), corporate partners, individual donors, and volunteers. Everyone involved with LDF is dedicated to working together to create meaningful progress and lifesaving and life-changing results. These are business leaders who don’t owe anyone anything, yet they are committed to surviving generations of politicians and giving of themselves in spades to help advance LDF’s mission. I love that our group embodies the saying “it’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.”

In your opinion, what should other business and civic leaders do to further address these problems? Can you please share your “5 Things That Need To Be Done To Address The Problem of People Having Limited Access to Healthy & Affordable Food Options”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. More public and private partnerships. We’ve seen very successful partnerships that were the result of out-of-the-box thinking from local non-profits and big corporations. One such program was between Jewish Family Services of San Diego and several for-profit eateries that came together to provide meals for people living in their cars in designated overnight parking areas. These types of partnerships, where corporations can boost the financial stability and awareness, are a huge-difference-maker.
  2. Get your hands dirty. Meaning, come out and volunteer with our Food and Water Distribution program or similar program in your community. Meet the people that are impacted by food deserts. As ’ve found, they aren’t that different from me and when I connect with the men, women, and kids that need a hand up, I recognize that I do have the power to make a difference. I would hope everyone could experience the immense gratitude I feel when helping others. Together we can do more!
  3. Talk to your community leaders, your county supervisors, and representatives. Find out what’s being done in your area to address the needs of the community. Find the gaps and fill them. That’s how the Lucky Duck Foundation pivoted to focus on addressing homelessness. LDF had served several charitable organizations for over a decade when Peter Seidler, General Partner of the San Diego Padres, and Dan Shea, Partner at Paradigm Investment Group, approached LDF co-founders Pat & Stephanie Kilkenny about what could be done to address homelessness. They knew that the city needed help and pulled together some of the brightest minds to do just that. Soon after studying the facts and collaborating, LDF with the support of Peter and Dan, purchased several industrial tent structures to provide shelter for more than 500 people.
  4. Don’t just throw money at the problem. Do research to understand the issue and assess where your money, time, and talent can be the most impactful. We know there is a myriad of reasons for hunger and homelessness. We recently convened all of San Diego’s universities to conduct research into the reasons and to develop strategic, actionable plans to address them and are currently implementing those strategies. Less is more when it comes to food waste. There is so much viable, usable, nutritious food that ends up in the landfill. Contact your local Feeding America chapter to find out how you can increase the number of food rescue routes they have. Find ways to support their efforts on an individual or corporate level. Our partnership with Feeding San Diego and The Salvation Army rescues 30,000lbs of food a month. That’s a lot of food that gets to people that need it.
  5. Speak Up and Act! You never know who you might be influencing, and how that movement could grow, when you talk about the issues and what you want to do to help. We have come across a multitude of people with hearts of gold and a desire to make a difference who take it upon themselves to make a difference and start from scratch and we are here to help and support their efforts.

Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address food deserts? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work?

Feeding San Diego is a powerhouse in our region. Their primary focus is to connect every individual facing hunger with nutritious meals by maximizing food rescue. Last year, Feeding San Diego provided more than 34.2 million meals and partnered with over 320 local charities, schools, faith communities, meal sites, and food pantries throughout the region to ensure that everyone has access to proper nutrition. Feeding San Diego’s work is predicated on not just helping people have access to food, but to improving the health of our planet. 35% of food produced in the US is wasted. By diverting usable food from the landfill to the table, they are reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Feeding San Diego is a phenomenal organization, making measurable change in our region.

If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws that you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

We advocate for vacant and under-utilized government-owned properties to be used as shelter or housing for homeless individuals. Housing is critical to ending homelessness and our City’s Homeless Action Plan pledges to reduce homelessness by 50%, however thousands of San Diegans are still unsheltered while dozens of city-owned buildings sit empty. We polled San Diego voters and they believe the same — an overwhelming 84% agreed. If I could influence our leaders, the first step I would urge them to take would be to open these properties to help those in need.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Probably a movement that encourages each member of society to focus on improving themselves. Meaning, if we each put as much time and energy into improving ourselves as we do judging or insulting others, or being offended, or spending time on our phones, I think our world would be a much better place. Much like the bible verse, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the plank from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.” Imagine how much better our society would be, if instead of being addicted to our phones and other vices, we were addicted to bettering ourselves as individuals!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Dave Matthews. Ever since I heard the “Under the Table and Dreaming” album when I was 11 or 12 years old, I’ve been hooked on their music. Since then, I have gone to countless concerts all over the country and followed their work closely. I would love to tell him that I deeply admire his work and specifically these three things: 1. His creativity and how he has so generously shared his talents with the world; 2. His and the band’s work ethic — the amount of time and travel they put in, especially in the early days, is incredible and no doubt exhausting, not to mention their commitment to overcoming band dynamics and quarrels to stick together for so many years; and 3. His and the band’s humility and generosity through it all. I’ve heard countless stories of fans meeting Dave and other band members and every one of them describes Dave (or bandmates) as very gracious, personable and humble. Plus, I know he and the band are quietly generous and give back to the community in spades, both corporately and personally. I sincerely appreciate how they go about their work, and I like to think LDF embodies similar characteristics in that we try to creatively share our talents, work hard, and remain humble and together through it all.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find us on social media @LuckyDuckFoundation on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn and @LuckyDuckFound on Twitter. We also encourage interested people to sign up for our monthly newsletter where we share new programs, ways to get involved, and compelling stories about people who have successfully ended their homelessness. You can sign up on our website here: https://bit.ly/LDFNews

This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.

Thank YOU!