LATHAM — Mark Quandt, who has headed the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York through nearly four decades of steady growth, will be retiring this year, following perhaps the most demanding year the food bank has ever seen.
At age 66, it’s the right time for Quandt, who grew up in Amsterdam in a way that prepared him well — around his family’s food distribution business, Quandt’s Foodservice Distributors, a multi-generation business since sold to US Foods.
“By the time I was starting to work there, it was a full warehouse, and really just distributing to institutional businesses,” Quandt recalled of the experiences that gave him the basic background to manage a large food distribution warehouse — albeit one geared to supporting community food pantries that help the needy, rather than commercial customers.
With demand from community pantries having grown 40% last year due to the pandemic, Quandt acknowledges it was a “very demanding” year for the food bank and its staff. Its system distributes across an area that stretches from Plattsburgh to Newburgh, though there is a satellite warehouse in the lower Hudson Valley.
“The Food Bank will always have a place in my heart and I will continue to support the organization in any way I can,” he said. “Meanwhile, I will leave it in the very capable hands of the leadership team with confidence the great work will continue.”
A graduate of Bishop Gibbons and St. Bonaventure who now lives in Schoharie County, Quandt worked in child care in the Buffalo area for a few years before returning to the Capital Region to get his master’s in social work from the University at Albany. Around the time he graduated, the regional food warehouse was looking for a warehouse manager. “As I was graduating there was this job opportunity, and I was able to get it,” Quandt recalled.
At the time, the food bank was located in downtown Albany’s Central Warehouse — the towering ugly white building just off Interstate-787 that is today empty and reviled — “the building everybody wishes would just go away.”
At the time, the regional food bank was serving just 60 agencies in eight counties, distributing approximately 400,000 pounds of food annually. But the operation — which supplies bulk food at low prices to community food pantries — has expanded nearly constantly since.
It moved to a new building on Old Niskayuna Road in Latham in 1988, and then to its current location off Albany-Shaker Road near Albany International Airport in 1993. The warehousing operation there has been repeatedly expanded, and now covers 70,000-square feet. Last November, the food bank opened a separate refrigerated warehouse nearby.
Today, the food bank serves nearly 1,000 agencies in 23 counties, distributing over 55 million pounds of food annually — with an abrupt spike in demand in the last year, as the pandemic increased food insecurity due to lost jobs and children being home more. The regional food bank has also been supplying most of the drive-through food distributions that have become a staple of the pandemic.
“Food bank can make resources go further,” Quandt said. “There are many more food banks around than when I started, that’s for sure.”
The Regional Food Bank was created by a group of food pantry coordinators and anti-hunger advocates in 1982 to meet the needs of community food pantries. Those pantries haven’t seen the demand for food and basic necessities slack much in many years, even during the economic recovery that took place between the Great Recession of 2008-2010 and last year’s pandemic-induced economic collapse.
“As the economy has changed, I know more of the wealth has become concentrated, everybody knows that,” Quandt said. “There’s less wealth in the general population, a lot of people are left behind, and the need has been great.”
In announcing Quandt’s pending retirement, the organization said that he was responsible for developing many innovative programs intended to reach out to underserved communities, with specific emphasis on providing services to children and seniors. Under his leadership the organization started programs that included operating a farm to provide fresh produce, building relationships with food manufacturers and wholesalers, and organizing hundreds of retail grocery stores to donate food that would otherwise go to waste.
The food bank now has about 100 employees and a fleet of trucks to distribute food to local pantries across eastern New York. Its annual budget is about $9.5 million, most of which comes from small donations, although it also receives corporation and foundation support. Most of the food is donated by supermarkets and wholesale distributors.
Congressman Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, a fellow Rug City native, issued a statement praising Quandt, and thanking him for his service.
“Mark Quandt is one of the finest people I have ever known,” Tonko said. “His work as executive director brought our Northeastern Regional Food Bank to new heights and helped lift thousands of our neighbors, friends and loved ones out of the pain of hunger and despair, and every step of the way he has done so with a deep spirit of compassion.”
Quandt, who will remain until a new executive director is selected, said he feels he is leaving the organization in good hands. There is expected to be a nationwide search for the next director.
“It has been an honor to work alongside professionals such as the board, staff, volunteers, agencies, donors and community leaders in the 23-county region, who are all truly dedicated to our mission of alleviating hunger and reducing food waste,” Quandt said in a prepared statement. “I will always look back with affection and pride on what the Regional Food Bank has accomplished.”
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