For much of the past three years, a large, yellow sponge sat on a corner of Travis McNeal’s desk. During a mentoring program to become the new director of the Golden Harvest Food Bank, that sponge reminded McNeal to absorb a wealth of knowledge from his teacher.
On July 30, McNeal will become the second director of the non-profit organization in its 30-year history. Founder and Executive Director Mike Firmin will retire, but remain on staff for one year as an adviser.
Five years ago, Firmin began praying daily for a successor with the faith and skills required to sustain the food bank operations. Feeding the hungry remains an important mission that he couldn’t risk watch crumble, he said.
While praying for a new director, Firmin developed a friendship with McNeal, who then served as associate pastor for worship at Warren Baptist Church. The Golden Harvest was a beneficiary of a fundraiser at the church.
In the spring of 2009, the two embarked on a daylong retreat. That day, Firmin said he was convinced God wanted McNeal to take on the leadership role.
McNeal, a North Augusta native, accepted the offer after prayer and discussion. The new position was an open door for him to continue more than 20 years of ministry.
“From the day I went to seminary, my heart has always been in missions and serving others,” McNeal said. “I feel like the Lord has always directed me towards associating with those in need, the hungry, the poor, the downtrodden.”
With no experience in the food bank industry, McNeal learned about everything from daily operations to fundraisers to government partnerships from Firmin. The two shared an office where McNeal said observing Firmin’s daily work was invaluable.
During his mentorship program, McNeal served as director of special projects for Golden Harvest. He oversaw a capital fundraising campaign during the food bank’s toughest two years as donations decreased and need increased during the economic recession.
As the new director, McNeal has set a goal of finding a way to purchase more food at an affordable price. He’d also like to expand programs that send food-filled backpacks home with school children and deliver boxes of food to the elderly.
“Golden Harvest has had a strong 30-year history,” he said. “We have a strong foundation from which to grow. The need is greater than it’s ever been before.”