When It Comes to Ending Hunger, All Eyes Are upon Houston

Categories: Texas

Moez El-Shohdi, second from the right, gathered with colleagues to discuss the growth and challenges of raising food banks within 32 nations present at this week's conference.
Every other month, Moez El-Shohdi travels through the greater Middle East. Ranging from Morocco to Pakistan, El-Shohdi dots the landscape, visiting models he helped perfect through his work in Cairo. He examines the factory sprung in Riyadh. He tours the facilities in Damascus. He makes sure that his model, churning through Cairo for seven straight years, has spread through the communities he and his compatriots have eyed, through the shanties and townships specifically targeted by El-Shohdi and his business partners.

But as El-Shohdi, speaking on Wednesday at the Houston Food Bank, relates, his business relates not to predatory lending, or to religious doctrine, or to any of the lives other well-off businessmen may claim on similar itineraries. El-Shohdi, rather, is focused on making sure that the spare meals of Amman and Tunis and Beirut are heading not to a local landfill but to the plates of those who most need them.

"The goal, at least in Egypt, is to eliminate hunger by 2020," El-Shohdi, the CEO of the Egypt Food Bank, relates. He's talking about the rewards and returns on opening Egypt's first food bank seven years ago -- about the 17.2 million meals provided every month and the $720 million his organization raises annually.

"And it can't be just one way, though," he says. "It has to be development and awareness and feeding and also investment. It can't be just one."

It can be just one angle, and it can't be just one method. Which is why El-Shohdi is here, in Houston, surrounding himself with nationals from thirty-odd other nations milling around the Houston Food Bank. He's sitting, talking about the localized challenges he's faced. His colleagues mill around, Hindi floating past Russian, pushing aside the Spanish fading as a pair of Uruguayans walk away.

Over 200 internationals have gathered in Houston for the week, participating in the H-E-B/Global Food Network (GFN) Food Bank Leadership Institute. Founded seven years ago in San Antonio, the GFN opted to move the conference to Houston this year, tapping into the city's ethnic mix and international prominence.

"We had a love affair with San Antonio, but look at Houston -- 20 ethnic groups of over 5,000 people," Jeff Klein, GFN's president and CEO, said. "We're the only global organization that deals with food banking, and if we want to expand, and if we want to invite as much of this community as we can, Houston makes more sense."

And so, after six years of setting the conference up in San Antonio, Klein and his GFN colleagues, based in Chicago, uprooted for the Houston Food Bank. A half-dozen years after the first international leadership conference, and decades after the first food banks cropped up in America, Houston has suddenly become home to the most extensive networking and educational opportunities for anyone invested in ending international food waste.

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