Experience Creators You Should Know - Rick Whitted, U.S. Hunger

Rick Whitted, of U.S. Hunger, discusses how he honed his skills over the pandemic to now be in position to overcome the challenges that the new meetings/events landscape brings.



This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world. 


Name: Rick Whitted

Company Name: U.S. Hunger

Job Title: CEO

Years of Experience: 5

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
U.S. Hunger has been hosting meal packs and working with event planners for over 13 years. I joined the organization as CEO in March 2020, and I challenged our team to rethink how we were serving those facing hunger and food insecurity. The question was, how could we maximize the opportunity to feed those in need across the country? Raising funds is critical, but so was the operational meal-packing aspect of what we do. Our team is really creative, and we started working with corporate group meeting planners and event planners all over the country where we developed a really fun and impactful meal-packing event that we could operate for meeting and event planners as a turn-key event for their clients who were looking for volunteer community service projects for their clients’ employees while attending a corporate gathering, meeting, or convention. It’s a win/win/win for everyone. The planner gets a really fun, fully developed, and managed event for their clients. The packing event is really a low-stress event for the planner which they appreciate, and U.S. Hunger gets a large group of volunteer attendees who are focused on packing nutritious meals for those facing food insecurity. So, we’ve become a non-profit meal-packing event company that delivers meals to food-insecure families with the partnership of our corporate clients.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
Well, my personal background isn’t in event planning, but my phenomenal team of event project managers are. U.S. Hunger event managers are amazing at working with group and event clients to develop and execute a perfect meal-packing event that’s designed to engage employees in fun and impactful ways. Our project managers are passionate about what they do, and that passion rubs off on everyone who participates in a meal-packing event. Our packing events can assemble up to a million meals during a packing party, so the logistics are considerable. When I say we do it all, we do everything, from transporting the food provision to the venue, setting up the packing stations, our onsite team managing the event, we break-down the meal prep stations, meal packaging, and even arrange delivery of the meals to the food pantry that our client selects. I make it sound simple, but the logistics that go into making this a flawless event are very detailed so that during the actual packing event, the volunteers have a great time and feel good about helping feed those in need. The exciting part is that we can execute a meal-packing event anywhere in the U.S. We even recently held a meal-packing event for a company’s meeting in Hawaii. Our goal is to make a packing event into a packing party.
How do you compare planning your first in-person event post-pandemic, to planning meetings/events pre- Covid? What was different and unique? What was similar?
Covid changed everything for us, as I’m sure it did for everyone else. The sad part is that hunger didn’t stop when Covid hit. We couldn’t just stop finding ways to feed people and wait it out. We quickly pivoted by developing a program called Full Cart (if you go to our website at, you can learn more about it). Full Cart delivers boxes of food directly to families in need, right to their front door. It’s been successful, and we are still delivering meals through that program, but our biggest focus now, post-pandemic, is working with group meetings and event planners who have large gatherings. We can just get to do more on a larger scale when we have a large group of volunteers to help pack meals.
What challenges have you faced in your work as a meeting and event planner, when working with suppliers or sourcing a venue and how did you overcome them?

We generally work with meeting and event planners who have already selected a venue. For example, if a company is holding its annual sales meeting at a hotel or resort, we generally hold the packing party in a ballroom, meeting space, or anywhere that can handle a large number of tables for packing meals. What everyone forgets is that we need to get all food supplies and meal packing equipment to the venue before the actual packing party, so our challenge is if a venue can hold for a couple of days hundreds of pounds of dry goods like rice and equipment. We are pros at quick set and strike times, many times, a meeting is held in a ballroom before the packing event, so we are there to quickly set up tables and food items right after a meeting ends and then quickly reset for a meeting after our packing party. We always find creative ways to address these logistics, but it’s a challenge that we are keenly aware of.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
This is a good question, what we bring to the table is our access to vendors and suppliers around the country. We know who to source to acquire nutritious food at the most competitive price and, additionally, who can deliver those products anywhere in the country where we hold our events. Other factors include the size of the group and how much time they have planned for the packing event, which dictates the number of meals that can be packed. Sometimes our clients want our event to be designed as a teambuilding event for their employees. We want to determine the demographics of the volunteers, and what does the client want to accomplish during a team-building project then, we design a meaningful meal-packing event that delivers what the client wants to accomplish, all while packing meals for families in need. Depending on the objectives, we may bring in team-building specialists to help design a memorable team-building event for our client’s group.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
An insight that our project managers know, and respect is we how incredibly busy a meeting or event planner is. They have so many moving parts to their meeting or event that the last thing we want is to be a problem for a planner. Our approach is that we are easy to work with and to be fully self-contained as possible, so our event is the easiest component that a planner will have to work with. Good communication is key to a well-run and managed event. Another bit of advice is to develop a mission statement for your company and deliver on it. At U.S. Hunger, our mission is “feeding families today and uniting them to a healthier tomorrow,” so my advice to future aspiring meeting and event planners is to find your mission statement and build your company around it. Our clients know what our mission is, and they want to partner with us to deliver on our mission of feeding those in need. We want our clients’ volunteers to experience our mission by helping feed those in need today so that those in need can have a healthier tomorrow.
With hotels short-staffed, and RFP lead time shortening, what is your advice to other planners to overcome these obstacles when requesting hotels for proposals?
The value of working with U.S. Hunger is that we are a turn-key event solution. Our team is very “hands-on,” so we don’t depend on hotel staff to much extent. Sure, we interact with the hotel staff, but we are primarily working directly with the meeting and event planner. We just require some basic information, and then we can move quickly in designing an impactful meal-packing event for you.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
U.S. Hunger contracts with the meeting or event planners, or if they prefer, we could contract directly with their client. Generally, we don’t contract directly with a hotel. Our contracts primarily focus on the logistics that are required to deliver a meal-packing event that is successful for everyone. We do have sections in our contract that outline various venue requirements like power support etc., but it’s a very straightforward basic agreement with language that that any meeting or event planner would be familiar with.
What is the biggest area of improvement that you think hotels can make when either responding to your RFPs or during the contract phase of your event?
Our events are directly connected to the planner of the meeting or event. We do provide insight on language that we would encourage a planner to include in their RFP, like proper and secure storage for our materials when they arrive, proper power support which is nothing excessive, and if tables and chairs are already included in the meeting or event at the venue that the group is being held, then we would like access to those tables and chairs as well. Other than that, our interaction with hotels is nominal.
Due to the pandemic, our events community had to evolve, adapt, and grow. Many planners started to embrace new technologies as a result of the pandemic. What new tech are you using today in your planning process as a result?
There is no question the pandemic has impacted so many organizations. We have always been super focused on making sure the nutritious meals that we pack and provide to those in need follow FDA guidelines, and cleanliness is of the utmost importance. With the pandemic, we are even more vigilant in following those guidelines making sure that everyone has hair nets, and sterile gloves and follows proper food prep hygiene. Our focus on cleanliness is totally understandable and embraced by all of our volunteers.
Since education and relationships are two major pillars in the meetings and events industry, any suggestions on how other planners can learn and network with their peers across the industry?
At U.S. Hunger, we believe in building long-term relationships with meeting and event planners for obvious reasons, but we want the planners and their clients to experience how incredible it feels to make a positive impact on a community that is facing food insecurity. We not only help feed people, but we also educate our clients and their volunteers on what an incredible impact they are making when participating in a meal-packing event with U.S. Hunger. We never miss an opportunity to network with meeting decision-makers to tell our story on how we all can help in easing food insecurity. If you or a client that you represent would like to be a part of our mission, contact U.S. Hunger at 888-891-6447. U.S. Hunger is a 501(c)(3) and has delivered over 150+ million meals to those in need.
This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic w,orld. 

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