Shepherd’s Table has appointed Manuel Hidalgo, an experienced executive in programs supporting socially and economically disadvantaged communities, as its new executive director, the organization announced.
Hidalgo, a 20-year resident of the Silver Spring area, will take over for Jacki Coyle, who announced she would retire on June 28 after 15 years’ leading Shepherd’s Table.
“My background has always been in combating poverty, whether it’s through youth development or small business or housing or coordinating service including medical, dental,” Hidalgo said. “I’ve worked for a number of organizations, but what they all have in common is helping people overcome poverty.”
Hidalgo’s parents have been in the area since they fled fled Cuba in the 1960; his grandfather was a professor at Catholic University of America. He credits his Jesuit education at Belen Jesuit Prep in Miami and Georgetown University as one of the reasons he’s passionate about his work.
“Social justice just runs in my family,” he added. “This has been a personal bedrock of who I am as a person and how I think about the world. I feel it’s a moral imperative to give back.”
Under his leadership, Hidalgo said that Shepherd’s Table’s mission to combat hunger and food insecurity will remain, but he has some ideas to explore that could help with the problem.
“One of the things I’d like to bring to the table, in consultation with the board and with our funders, is to look at trying to ameliorate the conditions of poverty,” Hidalgo said.
Microlending is one option he’s like to explore for the homeless and the food insecure, with which he has had related experience in the past.
For nine years, he was executive director of the Latino Economic Development Center in Washington, D.C.
“We had a lot of people who were just recent arrivals from Central America who didn’t have any money and were barely getting by,” Hidalgo said, “and with small amounts of capital, were able to start small businesses.”
Another option he’s considering is creating job-training programs for Shepherd’s Table clients at its Progress Place facility.
‘We have this huge, beautiful, fully functioning commercial kitchen,” Hidalgo said. “It’s a great laboratory to train people in the food sector.”
He noted that there are 68,000 jobs in food service in the D.C. area, which is projected to grow by another 4,000 jobs in the next few years. While an entry-level wage is not enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment in this area (typically about $1,600 a month in Silver Spring), Hidalgo pointed out that a management-level job would pay about $40,000-$50,000 annually, which makes it affordable.
“Using the kitchen to train people to enter that sector could be a great way to ameliorate the conditions of poverty that require people to seek food,” he said.
“[Hunger] affects everything,” Hidalgo said. “Your brain maybe starts to go to a place where it’s consumed by the fact that you’re hungry. And it’s hard to think of anything but the fact that you’re so hungry.”
Hidalgo will take over effective July 8. During the first month, he plans to host “Coffee at the Table with Manny” as a way to introduce himself, “acquaint community members about Shepherd’s Table and its services, and welcome input and ideas from participants,” the organization said in a press release.
Photo of Manuel Hidalgo by Mike Diegel.