Board member Mike Degen has truly seen it all since joining Loaves & Fishes in the mid-1990s.
“This organization was the best kept secret in Minnesota in terms of the work that was being done,” Mike said. “Now the tentacles of the organization reach so many different areas and people in so many different ways. As I sit back on the last 25 years I go, ‘wow, I never would have thought.’”
Mike was at a United Way breakfast when he met the then Loaves & Fishes Executive Director. That conversation would change his life as he ended up joining the board and even serving as board chair for nearly a decade. The organization operated three community dining sites at the time and was strapped for cash.
“Through all this the mission of feeding the hungry was always the primary task,” said Mike.
And that mission is what has kept Mike part of the organization for the past 25 years.
“I really embraced it,” said Mike. “As time went on I embraced it more and more every year because I could see the increased value and increased good being done.”
Mike has seen transition of leadership, watched board members come and go and has helped navigate challenges. He has also seen the organization become less of a secret over the years and is proud of the growth when he sits back and reflects. He believes the turnaround started with one pivotal moment in the early 2000s.
“We received an anonymous gift for 1.5 Million dollars,” explained Mike. “We never did find out who that gift was from but it changed the landscape for the organization. We had to decide what we were going to do with it. The list was longer than the amount of money but we made the decision to invest it.”
Investing the money helped Loaves & Fishes elevate to a whole new level. Mike has seen the organization evolve from three community dining sites when he joined to over 30 with so many new ways to feed the hungry. One of those areas that has impressed him the most is the ability to go out and rescue food while putting it to good use.
“When I started we served 150,000 meals and now we are over 4 million,” said Mike. “I get a great sense of satisfaction in terms of ‘you really did something that mattered to a lot of people,’ but I’ve just been a small part of a big organization.”
In our eyes, Mike has been more than a small part, but we know he would never say that himself.