No problem is too big to tackle for Noreen Springstead, the executive director of WhyHunger.

By Pam O'Brien
August 16, 2019
Heather Hazzan

You may not know the name Noreen Springstead (yet), but she's proving to be a game-changer for, well, the entire world. Since 1992, she's worked for the nonprofit WhyHunger, which supports grassroots movements and fuels community solutions. These initiatives are rooted in social, environmental, racial, and economic justice with the goal of ending hunger in the U.S. and across the globe.

How She Got the Gig:

"When I graduated college, I really thought I was going to go into the Peace Corps. Then, my boyfriend at the time (who became my husband), proposed to me at my graduation party. I thought, 'okay, if I'm not going to do the Peace Corps, I have to do something meaningful with my life.' I looked and I looked, but it was in early '90s and it was right during the recession, so it was very hard to get a job.

Then I started panicking and started interviewing at these pharmaceutical companies. I went to a headhunter, and they set me up on all these interviews. I would get out of the interview and get to the parking lot and feel like 'I'm going to throw up; I can't do this.'

I was also actively getting this trade paper called Community Jobs, which is now idealist.org, which was the place where you went to for nonprofit jobs. I saw this ad in it that I thought was interesting, so I called, and they said, 'Come in tomorrow.' After the interview, I went home, and immediately got a call from the founder, who was the executive director for many years, and he's said, "We'd love to have you. When you can you start?' I started the next day. At that time I had 33 rejection letters that I put on my refrigerator and I took them all off, put them on a skewer, and lit them on fire. I ran here, and I haven't left. I started at the front desk, and, basically, I've done every job in between at some point."

Why this Mission Matters:

“Forty million Americans are struggling with hunger, but it can seem like an invisible problem. There is so much shame in asking for help. The truth is, flawed policies are to blame. After talking to our partner organizations, our team realized that hunger is about fair wages more than food scarcity. Many people who rely on food aid are working, but they ’re simply not earning enough to make ends meet.” (Related: These Inspiring Health and Fitness Charities Are Changing the World)

Taking a Different Approach to Hunger:

“About seven years ago, we helped form an alliance called Closing the Hunger Gap to address the injustice at the heart of the issue. We’re bringing food banks and soup kitchens together to do things differently. I call it pathways out of poverty: not just handing someone food but sitting down with them and asking, ‘What are you struggling with? How can we help?’ We’re working with food banks to give them the courage to say we need to talk about ending hunger, not about measuring success in the number of people fed and dollars raised.”

No, the Goal Isn't Too Big:

“The secret sauce is having a passion for what you do. Keep driving at it. View your goal as achievable, but know that it’s a process. Recently, I’ve seen more people gravitating to the idea that hunger is totally solvable and that we need to look at the root causes. That makes me hopeful, especially as all these other movements spring up. Zero hunger is possible, and our work to build a deeply connected social movement will get us there.” (Related: Women Whose Passion Projects Are Helping to Change the World)

Shape Magazine, September 2019 issue
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