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2014 WOMAN OF INFLUENCE: Jennifer Vigran

October 31, 2014

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On the day 13 years ago that Jennifer Vigran gave up her last consulting client, she filled out her volunteer application at Second Helpings Inc. Little did she know the application would lead to her taking the helm of the hunger-relief organization in 2010, then growing it to a point where it will deliver more than 1 million meals this year.

A former labor relations manager for Thomson Consumer Electronics and chief negotiator for Gov. Evan Bayh’s administration, Vigran was looking to spend more time with her family and connect in a volunteer capacity in her community.

“Many years ago, my congregation [Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation] had a soup kitchen program,” Vigran said. “We decided to direct our volunteers and funding to this new organization, Second Helpings, so that we could make more efficient and knowledgeable use of both.”

A training session for transitioning volunteers included a video showing a graduation ceremony for its culinary job training program.

“A Second Helpings staffer teared up,” Vigran recalled. “He must have seen this video dozens of times, and it still touched him deeply. Every student that graduates is making this community stronger. Every meal is making a difference. That passion drew me in, and it’s what keeps me here every day.”

A board position at Second Helpings led to Vigran’s becoming interim CEO—but “interim” was dropped in 2010.

In her new role, she managed an efficiency-focused redesign of Second Helping’s facilities, boosting meal productions 33 percent and bringing the cost per meal down from $1.11 to $1.02 without sacrificing quality.

“We didn’t want to do a big capital campaign and blow the organization up,” she said, noting that any renovation had to factor in the logistics of keeping the food flowing to those who needed it. Creating a temporary facility at the Indiana State Fairgrounds ensured no meal was missed.

Vigran said that the free meals Second Helpings provides to 75 partner organizations frees up resources to help those partners better serve their clients. For many, Vigran said, “it’s a key to sustainability.” For example, the 600 free meals the Julian Center receives each week allow the domestic-violence shelter to use its income on domestic-abuse services.

Vigran also is proud of Second Helpings’ job training. Graduates of the program serve as executive chef for the Indianapolis Colts along with kitchen staff for JW Marriott and the Alexander Hotel.

“One of my favorite days,” she said, “is when one of our grads comes back to hire other graduates.”

Vigran serves on the boards of the Indiana Repertory Theatre and the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis. She encourages her staff to join boards as well.

“There are things we know here that can be helpful, but we also learn from other boards to identify new best practices,” she said.

Vigran would love for Second Helpings to no longer be needed. Unfortunately, she said, “It’s not getting better.

“The lines of patrons continue to be long and the resources of other not-for-profits continue to be stretched. People we are serving are working families struggling to get by. There’s plenty of work for us to do, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”•

To read other Women of Influence profiles, please click here.

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