Cooking with the Greenes - Houston Food Bank's President and CEO
No calm after the storm for Houston Food Bank chief
Brian Greene has a big family to feed. He runs the nation’s largest Feeding America food bank. As president and CEO of the Houston Food Bank, Greene, 54, is always on the go to improve the nonprofit’s impact and reach in seeking and distributing food donations and nutritious meals.
He is also a family man and when asked how he spends his time outside the HFB, he immediately, without hesitation, says: “With these guys!” and points his thumbs left and right to wife Andrea Osborne, 46, and sons Gavin, 10, and Shane, 8. He takes his sons to sports and, like his wife and kids, most enjoys spending time together in the heart of the home: the family’s kitchen.
The Greenes love their home kitchen. It is open with a counter-height island and “has the most comfortable bar seats ever,” says Osborne. “The kids can eat there, they read their books or we talk. And I can work around the kitchen and they’re not separate.”
But today we’re not in their home kitchen. In 2005 Katrina chased them out of their New Orleans home and this year Harvey flooded their Meyerland home. When we meet at the end of September, they are still not back. Instead, we meet in the HFB’s brand-new Keegan kitchen, the new heart of the food bank, to talk about work and family, rebuilding, Thanksgiving and hopes for 2018.
“Having been through Katrina with him [Greene], I was terrified of Harvey,” says Osborne. She and the kids evacuated Friday morning. Greene stayed in Houston. And as Harvey drove people into emergency shelters, food bank operations demanded all of his time. And dealing with the floods: By Monday the HFB was surrounded by water; in Meyerland, the Greenes’ house received three feet of water. When the family returned to Houston a week later, instead of going home they moved into a temporary flat. Even the kids’ school had been badly damaged and was relocated for the school year.
One hard part of being displaced is cooking in her temporary kitchen, without her own set of pots of pans and just a tiny fridge. “We’ve not been eating [as healthy] as I’d like,” Osborne admits. Healthy eating is important to them. It is why they had a hard time doing a SNAP challenge: a week of eating on a food stamp budget. At $4 per person per day, healthy options are out of range.
“Our Communications Department makes me do it every once in a while,” says Greene, who admits he struggles with the challenge. “I enjoy eating. I don’t consider myself a foodie but I still like to eat what I want. If you are trying to live on the equivalent of what a food stamp budget is, you can’t do that.”
Looking back on 2017, both parents instantly cheer the volunteerism, the community effort that helped Houston recover. “If our neighborhood is any indication … I’ve never seen a community work so hard, so long, so willingly, to help everybody get back on their feet,” says Osborne. When it comes to achievements for the Houston Food Bank, Greene extends his arms to embrace the organization’s kitchen and says: “This! This was built in 2017. This [kitchen] theoretically has a capacity of 20,000 meals a day.”
Culinary Operations Manager Peter Montalvo oversees the three kitchen programs: kids café, catering and community kitchen, which is a 12-week basic cooking skills program with a job placement involved. He joins the Greenes in the Keegan kitchen with a display of healthy and tasty ingredients that makes everybody’s mouths water, not least Osborne’s. Pretending not to notice the kids steal a potato and a couple pomegranate seeds to nibble on, and clearly enjoying the enthusiasm with which the family tackles making his kale salad recipe, Montalvo says: “Full capacity is a big number right now. We got off to a slow start [because of Harvey] and extended our (slower) summer schedule,”. “Our goal is 10,000 meals by the end of this year. We also feed inmates: They come to volunteer and in exchange they get lunch.”
“Our goal for the Keegan kitchen is to make meals have as much impact as they can,” says Greene. He is excited for 2018 and the partnerships that will help the Houston Food Bank feed kids and support early education at the same time.
One of those collaborations is with the Houston Children’s Museum. The after-school and daycare programs run as part of the museum’s science curriculum will receive hot meals from the Houston Food Bank.
And then there is the partnership with the Collaborative for Children, a nonprofit aiming to strengthen early education throughout Houston. “They try to get daycare centers to adopt what is called the Texas Rising Star certificate. Which means they are operating like a good preschool. We’ll give their center hot meals if they work with Collaborative for Children to become a Texas Rising Star provider,” says Greene. The Texas Rising Star is a quality-based child care rating system and the benefits for Texas Rising Star providers include among other subsidy reimbursements, scholarships and training opportunities.
When the time comes for the Greenes to move back into their home, they will have those comfy bar seats. They were among the first things Greene put up on the second floor (“which is more like a loft”). “The other thing we saved was our dining table,” says Osborne. “That was from Brian’s New Orleans house.”
They plan on being home for Thanksgiving: “We’ve got the stove, we’ve got the fridge. The countertops should be fine,” says Greene. When it comes to “must-have” on the holiday table, it turns out you can take Greene out of Louisiana, but you can’t take Louisiana out of him: “Fried turkey!” he says. “And demon eggs!”
For those Greene mixes together Tabasco (instead of vinegar), real mayo, a little bit of brown mustard and that staple Louisiana seasoning, Tony Chachere’s. For health-focused Osborne, fried turkey wouldn’t be her first pick but as long as there are fresh cranberries, preferably with some orange zest, she’s good. And the kids? Dessert, of course!