COLUMBIA — Peggy Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, has announced she will retire at the end of the year.
Kirkpatrick has worked at the food bank since 1992.
Although she plans to step down, she said she'll keep working for Columbia's poor through her religious work. Kirkpatrick is an ordained minister, and next year she will turn to full-time ministry.
"The next chapter of my life is going to be focused on trying to get people out of poverty, not just help them cope with it," she said.
Kirkpatrick was working at MU as a computer systems analyst when she noticed that the city's homeless were eating from and sleeping in dumpsters. She decided to ask God for guidance.
"I said this really sorry prayer that went something like this: 'God, this is wrong. You need to do something or you need to send someone,'" she said.
Within two months, she was working at the food bank in a leadership role.
"I always warn people, 'Don't say that prayer,'" she said with a laugh.
More than 3 million pounds of food were distributed that first year, 1992. Last year, she surpassed that number by 33 million pounds.
Reflecting on the past 22 years, Kirkpatrick said she's proudest of a decision she was involved in after the flood of 1993 when the food bank was providing disaster relief. The food bank stopped charging member agencies a fee for food, she said.
"At the time, we were one of only two food banks to operate like that in the country," she said. "Several years later, we were the only one that was going strong and still doing it for free."
Today, the food bank is one of just 14 food banks in the country that gives everything away free of charge.
Timothy Rich, executive director and chief professional officer of Heart of Missouri United Way, worked with Kirkpatrick for seven years at the food bank. Kirkpatrick created the food bank's first development director position specifically for Rich.
"Those, in my mind, were really the seven best and most impressive years of my career, from a standpoint of shaping me," Rich said.
He said Kirkpatrick taught him a lot about leadership, how to create a vision and make it come true, Rich said.
"She taught me that I should have faith and believe that what others think is impossible could actually be achieved," Rich said.
The board will begin a search for a successor this year.