Guest Commentary: Food Bank Wars – A New Hope Is Needed

Bill Habicht and Michael Bisch hosting a JumpStart Davis event at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen in downtown Davis, 2014.

by Bill Habicht

I was stunned to read the Sacramento Business Journal’s investigative reporting last week on the recent firing of Yolo Food Bank’s highly-regarded Executive Director Michael Bisch (see full article further below). The fact that the Food Bank’s impressive upward performance trajectory was ongoing at the time of Michael’s dismissal makes the Food Bank Board of Directors’ decision even more confounding.

Sacramento Business Journal cover photo, Mishka’s Café, Davis, 2022

I have worked with Michael on many community projects and initiatives, including a period as a consultant to the Food Bank in early 2018 as he led the organization from the brink of insolvency to the nimble, innovative, and impactful nonprofit that we now know and respect, and that so many of our neighbors rely upon for food security. Much of the Sacramento Business Journal’s excellent reporting resonated with my own firsthand experiences of Michael’s impact at Yolo Food Bank.

While the article did a terrific job of covering Michael’s business and financial acumen, I think some readers will be surprised to learn that his brand of leadership has a very different focus. It is grounded in advancing the Common Good, developing organizational culture and values, team building, and fostering transparency and trust. All critical for a values-based organization! Michael’s focus, in turn, yields highly-motivated staff members and a community willing to invest both time and dollars in addressing daunting challenges, such as food insecurity and poverty.

Rabobank $100,000 check presentation at Yolo Food Bank’s new 42,000 square foot operations facility under construction, Woodland, 2018.

It is therefore, no surprise that the Food Bank clashed with county and city officials. There is very little alignment between the organization’s mission, culture, and values and those of local government. I’m dismayed and disheartened by the YFB board’s decision. I believe it has resulted in a breach of public trust, organizational values and mission. When these rare situations arise, I tend to look first and foremost at the response of staff… those who work in an organization day-in and day-out. And this is where my greatest concern lies. When employees write a letter of no-confidence in the board, it raises serious questions, to be honest.

It’s not clear to me how this Yolo Food Bank board overcomes the leadership and trust crisis that it has instigated. It seems appropriate, as well as ethically faithful to YFB recipients and donors, to request a fully transparent, impartial investigation at this point in time. The Yolo Food Bank is critical to the well-being of literally thousands. For the sake of loving our neighbors and the integrity of a critical organization to the region, an impartial investigation seems quite appropriate.

Bill Habicht is a former Associate Pastor of a local Davis congregation, a founding member of the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter of Davis, founding member of Pathways to Employment, co-founder of Radiate Art Collective, co-founder of JumpStart Davis, and cofounder of the Pollinate Davis Coworking Space

Sacramento Business Journal

By Emily Hamann

July 8, 2022


How tensions with elected officials led to the ouster of Yolo Food Bank leader Michael Bisch

When Michael Bisch was hired as the Yolo Food Bank’s executive director in 2018, the organization was in trouble.

“The first time somebody handed me a financial statement, which was my first day, I immediately realized that the financial situation at the food bank was severe,” he said.

As he recounts it, the food bank was three months from not being able to make its payroll or rent.

Bisch got to work rebuilding the leadership team and transforming the food bank’s finances. A year later, the food bank had $1 million in reserves. Since then, the food bank’s annual budget has tripled.

In May it completed its most successful fundraising campaign ever in the Sacramento region’s Big Day of Giving, raising $367,176.

Then on May 31, Bisch got a text message. He was fired.

To read the full article go here…(paywall warning).

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Ron Oertel

    When employees write a letter of no-confidence in the board, it raises serious questions, to be honest.

    Michael Bisch himself signed that letter.  The content and tone of that letter was written in a manner that would likely result in being fired.

    It is therefore, no surprise that the Food Bank clashed with county and city officials. There is very little alignment between the organization’s mission, culture, and values and those of local government.

    I don’t buy it.  Regardless, Michael Bisch was fired by the board, not local government officials.

    What I suspect we saw here is a situation in which someone was overly-abrasive to external officials and his own board. You can see it in the letter, itself.

    The (volunteer) board was not likely trying to “get anyone”, and likely supported the mission of the YFB itself. What reason would they have to do anything but that?

    It’s up to everyone to check their egos at the door, and focus on their mission within the confines which exist. But, especially someone who can be fired.

    Of course, we never actually hear much from those who made that decision, so it’s ultimately just speculation based upon the information that’s already been provided.

      1. Ron Oertel

        It’s still behind a paywall, as it was when you posted a link to it the other day.

        The quotes you provided at that time don’t actually explain the reason that the board made this decision.

        Vilifying your employer is usually not an effective long-term work strategy, nor is it good for the organization and its mission. The same thing is true regarding vilifying local government, in regard to any oversight they have.

        I doubt that there’s “one side” to this story.  Personally, I don’t think it’s helpful to Mr. Bisch (or the food bank) to bring so much attention to his termination.  Those looking at it from an external point of view are not likely to conclude much of anything from these articles.

        Getting fired is never a “good thing” – even if the person and others believe that they were “wronged”.  It’s almost always a case of not getting-along in a given environment.

        Now, if there’s a series of firings, that could be a sign of an ongoing problem with the board.

        But again, is the claim that “no one” can make this job work, for themselves and the organization? And that the requirements are so onerous that it’s an impossible situation? (Again, seems doubtful.)

      2. Bill Marshall

        I strongly recommend folk do what Bill H did, when citing links…

        To read the full article go here… (paywall warning). [emphasis mine]

        I intend to do so… if it applies… makes Bill H’s article even more credible, in my opinion, at least.  I also intend to read the full article.

        For full disclosure, our charitable contributions have (and will) include Yolo Food Bank, Sacramento Food Bank, STEAC, etc.  Met Michael B twice… was impressed… also have known Joy C for years before she was ‘financial development coordinator’ for YFB [as I understand it, she has moved to ‘Meals on Wheels’]… both people I respect and trust…

        1. Bill Marshall

          Don… I did (having trouble accessing it)… big time…

          Took 20 minutes to resolve, and took a ‘subscription’… not saying you experienced that, but know that I and perhaps others did… ‘big time’…

          I reiterate… the “paywall warning” should be S.O.P… it is courteous, and it is ‘real’…

      3. Nick Schroeder

        I completely agree with Don Shore. Read the SBJ article. The article discusses a March 18 letter where the BOS appeared to make YFB’s receipt of federal ARP funds conditional on the YFB Board terminating Michael Bisch. It points to personal conflicts of interests of YFB Board members (including that March 18 letter also seeming to suggest funding for a project that one of the board member’s companies was working on was at risk if  YFB Board did not do the BOS bidding).

        And guess what? Now that Michael Bisch is out of the picture, the BOS approved the ARP funds.


        1. Bill Marshall

          Yes… connect the dots…

          I just wonder what “strings were attached” other than the one you cited…

          The BOS should rejoice that private efforts have been taking away pressure from folk who think the County should have this as a program… taxpayer funded… out of County revenues…

  2. Dave Hart

    After reading the SBJ article and reading as much as I can between the lines, it seems like the Board of Supervisors and the YFB Board are the ones who need to check their egos at the door.  One rarely sees the kind of nearly magical performance and financial turnaround that Michael Bisch oversaw during his brief term.  Maybe he was abrasive in the eyes of those who needed or deserved abrading.  It’s just inconceivable how these two boards can just throw away that kind of work and record of achievement. It’s a tragedy.  There really is no other word to describe what happened.

  3. Bill Marshall

    There really is no other word to describe what happened.

    Sorry, yes there is another word… “politics”… which word is politically ‘amoral’ (no side, except in the “eye of the beholder”), and intrinsically about power/votes…

    But, again I assert, I look to the “mission”/purpose of the YFB, and how well our $$$’s go to that purpose, and how effectively it is used…

    Michael B did a great job towards those two “primary” objectives… that will be my/our “litmus test” of the Board, and any future staff… and, our contributions… (anyone who does not contribute, need not reply)

    So, I guess I’d think of the situation as “unfortunate”, and “likely unwarranted”… but “tragedy”?   No… the “tragedy” would be if the mission/purpose is compromised… and/or if folk forget the mission/purpose and abandon their “time, talents, treasure” due to ‘politics’… the need is REAL, not philosophical or political… the interaction with other groups like STEAC, others, is synergistic…

    I strongly suspect Michael B will ‘land well’, and continue to serve the broader community… and I look forward to him doing so… he (from what I’ve seen, read, experienced) is a ‘gift’ to the community… we should treasure folk like him…

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