Park Slope was not always a thriving neighborhood. Benjamin Thomases, a recent graduate of Columbia Business School, should know. The 31-year-old native of this now-fashionable area of Brooklyn, remembers spending his childhood seeing homeless people sleeping in parks and subways—an experience that fueled his current passion for fighting poverty in the city.
While he loved growing up in Park Slope, he also remembers thinking: "We live in a complicated world that can't be fixed with a single decision. A multi-faceted approach will be needed."
Thomases is now in a position to act on these convictions. Last month, he became New York City's food policy coordinator—a position first proposed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in November 2006 as part of his new anti-poverty plan. The position involves coordinating a new task force aimed at increasing access to nutritious food, in particular among low-income New Yorkers.
"Through this new coordination we will bring together the many city agencies that will play a role in expanding the range of easily accessible, affordable and nutritious food options," said Linda Gibbs, New York City's deputy mayor for Health and Human Services.
Thomases comes to this role—new to him and to the city—with impressive credentials. A 2003 graduate of the business school's Social Enterprise Program, he has spent his career advocating for the disadvantaged.
While at Columbia Business School, he focused on the challenge of how to "build an antipoverty program that is not overly reliant on government and philanthropic support." Upon graduation, he landed his "dream job": serving as president of FirstSource Staffing, a company owned by the Fifth Ave. Committee, which works to help low-income people with barriers to entering the workforce get jobs that will put them on a path to self-sufficiency.
As part of his new duties, Thomases will try to ensure that those who are eligible for food stamps can get them. He will also oversee a plan to expand to 1,000 stores a program that encourages bodegas [corner stores] in low-income areas to offer more products like low-fat milk and fresh vegetables.
ALUMNI PROFILE: "Ben Thomases '03: Social-purpose business leader”