Kristen V Wild
President & CEO
Operation Food Search
Location: St. Louis, MO
Industry: Nonprofit Human Services
“In 2019, I left a job I loved, where I felt comfortable and fulfilled. I took a plunge into the unknown — a much larger and more complex organization with a substantially higher operating budget, many more employees, more rigorous job demands and the legacy of a beloved leader who had been at the helm for 22 years,” Kristen Wild recalled.
“I made this decision because it was an opportunity to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and adults, and to help fulfill a crucial mission in the community. I have no regrets about the risk I took!”
As President & CEO of Operation Food Search, Wild leads a hunger relief organization that serves over 200,000 people each month, offering food, nutrition education and other programs.
The organization has grown substantially since Wild took over because of Wild’s own push for innovation and expansion and because of the increased need since the pandemic. Operation Food Search provided an additional 1.5 million meals to the community between March and November 2020, above and beyond its regular distributions.
“Kristen’s leadership enabled OFS to pursue its mission of healing hunger at a time when it is most needed,” said Wild’s team and nominators.
Wild coordinated with other area leaders to ensure that the needs of the community were met. She formed impactful new partnerships, such as the collaboration with St. Louis County Library, which enabled them to distribute over a million meals to children in 2020.
In addition, Wild has helped ensure the longevity of the organization by spearheading endowment efforts to raise $5 million. She’s overseen additional hiring, board recruitment and the expansion of crucial programs to address the root causes of hunger.
For example, OFS’s “food is medicine” initiatives provide food and supportive services to children and adults who are food insecure and manage diagnoses that require healthcare. In doing so, they’re improving health outcomes and pioneering the emerging idea of food as a reimbursable health care expense.
Additionally, in 2021, Kristen oversaw the acquisition of the St. Louis MetroMarket, a farmers market on wheels that reaches communities with little access to nutritious food.
All told, Wild is responsible for a $35 million operating budget, a team of 45 staff members and thousands of volunteers. She manages a food distribution network of 300+ community partners and oversees community nutrition and policy/advocacy departments.
Among other accolades, Wild was named a 2021 Most Influential Business Woman by the St. Louis Business Journal and a 2021 YWCA Leader of Distinction. Under her leadership, OFS became a United Way organization for the first time in 2020. OFS has increased revenue, expanded its corporate partnerships and added thousands of new donors in the past two years.
Once again this year, Food Bank News has named OFS one of the country’s top ten independent food banks.
Kristen grew up on a farm in Michigan, so a healthy food system is especially near and dear to her heart. In addition, given her roots in teaching kids whose basic needs were not being met, she was drawn to the opportunity to meet one of the most basic needs of all: food security. According to Kristen, "Without food security, children are unable to thrive in the classroom . . . or in life."