Harvest Hope CEO Erinn Rowe may be stepping into her new role for the first time, but she’s been lending her leadership to the food bank distributor since 2015 when she joined the board of directors.
Since then, Rowe became the board chair while Harvest Hope expanded its network to meet the needs of 38,000 people a week through 400 agencies across 20 counties. During her tenure as CEO, Rowe hopes to only increase the breadth of Harvest Hope’s outreach by streamlining and automating some of its distribution processes.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility with donors’ dollars,” she said. “We need to use those to the fullest extent that it can, and that does involve creating efficiencies and creating automation for removing the manual processes that can be done through automation, so that we can allow our dollars to actually feed people and to streamline operations.”
That strategy means making any interactions with Harvest Hope as easy as possible: the path of least resistance for recipients, donors and volunteers, especially since most of the nonprofit’s manpower comes from individuals and companies that donate their time at the warehouse.
Harvest Hope, based in Richland County with a food distribution center on Shop Road, also has distribution centers in Greenville and Florence.
Rowe, most recently the senior treasury sales analyst for commercial banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, began her career in food service, her first love.
“I like to tell people, food is my love language,” Rowe told GSA Business Report. “That’s how I like to show my care for people.”
Rowe once owned and operated a franchise of Young Chef’s Academy, a children’s cooking school that promoted healthy eating habits and skill-based learning after earning an undergraduate degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism administration from the University of South Carolina.
Her 10-year career serving $5 million to $2 billion companies through Bank of America helped supplement that passion with additional business acumen and the understanding of how to “transition business clients to a more efficient system,” she said.
Her role with Harvest Hope is a what she calls a perfect marriage of these two industries, adding that a large component of Harvest Hope’s operations rely on dexterity in distribution and logistics.
“I think a lot of people associate Harvest Hope with a food line,” she said. “And you see the line stretching a mile — which is heartbreaking — down the street. The actuality is, we cover 20 counties. We have three warehouse locations: we have one in Greenville, we have one here in Columbia and we have one in Florence. Our business model is to distribute food to our 400 agencies that work in those 20 counties.”
The nonprofit also serves as the advocacy and infrastructural platform for those 400 organizations.
“We are the voice of food insecurity in South Carolina for these agents,” she said, adding the last year, Harvest Hope delivered almost 29 million pounds of food to smaller distributors.
Rowe will succeed former CEO Wendy Broderick, who died in January.
“We are fortunate to have someone who possesses such a deep knowledge of Harvest Hope to be able to step in to lead our organization during this difficult time,” John Walsh, Harvest Hope’s current board chair, said in the news release. “Erinn helped Wendy begin her career with Harvest Hope. It ended too soon for all of us, but we are grateful Erinn is willing to join Harvest Hope full time to carry out our mission of serving people in need.”