Remembering John Woods

Shared by Justin Alfond, Co-founder of Full Plates Full Potential

I met John Woods in 2013 when I was serving as a State Senator. I had introduced my first childhood hunger bill and John reached out to me wanting to help. Months later, we were finally scheduled to meet in Augusta to chat about our shared interest in ending child hunger. 

That day, my schedule was getting squeezed, so I met John with, “I’m sorry, our thirty minutes has turned into two.” He said, “That’s all I need.” After that brief interaction, I knew that I had found a thought partner around child hunger.  

I quickly learned that John had been working for years with Maine chefs, businesses and communities to raise funds and awareness for child hunger across Maine. I, on the other hand, was new on this journey. We quickly jelled and started sharing all of our dreams and opportunities to change the current landscape. 

Our first combined step was developing a blueprint to help kids experiencing hunger. I introduced a bill: A Task Force to End Student Hunger.

I co-chaired the task force and helped select some of the best nonprofit and individual leaders working on hunger in our state. We spent six months traveling, hosting and learning how we could develop a plan to support our schools and nonprofits using USDA child nutrition programs more effectively. The task force’s report was adopted by the Maine Legislature in 2015 and became the blueprint for policy makers, advocates and businesses to rally behind a common cause. 

While the task force was plodding along, a few members of the committee started meeting to address a major opportunity that we all were sensing. Our findings were clear: Maine needed an entity that focused 100% of its attention on Maine’s child nutrition programs in both schools and nonprofits.

It goes without say that Full Plates Full Potential would not exist without John Woods. John spearheaded these meetings using all he had learned from Share our Strength, his years in hospitality and business. In 2015, John and I asked our good friends at Preble Street to become our fiscal sponsor, and Full Plates Full Potential became real.

In our early years, John and I leveraged our positions to grow Full Plates Full Potential slowly. He worked on building strong revenue streams through culinary events and businesses. John was a natural at sharing stories on why ending hunger was important to our kids, and raising money was fun for him. To that end, after a few successful events where chefs would always ask him what else they could do to help kids get the nutritious food they needed, he created the FEED KIDS marketing program. 

The FEED KIDS program was instrumental in growing Full Plates over its first years. The program allowed the culinary community to engage every one of their customers and to build the critical awareness of child hunger. It raised meaningful dollars and funded our earliest summer and breakfast grant programs.

Some of my favorite memories of John will always be his eternal optimism to solve child hunger. He would always end every conversation with, “We only have 80,000 kids to help. We can win this, Justin.” 

John was a great listener. He would begin almost every statement with, “This is an opportunity…” John was so curious about learning how we as a state could improve systems to feed more kids. He would always pepper me with questions on how to improve and leverage existing ways kids access meals, how to transport meals in schools, and how food is purchased from distributors. 

John also cherished relationships. There was never a conversation with John that ended early because he was a phenomenal storyteller and was always present with whomever held his attention. John had so many dear friends and supporters of his work, including: Laura Pineo, Sherri Stevens, Rob Evans, Bill Williamson, Ilma Lopez, Arlin Smith and so many more. 

He will be sorely missed.