Chattanooga is nation’s most philanthropic city, says food bank official

Photography by Olivia Ross / Chattanooga Area Food Bank Chief Development Officer Dominique K. Brandt
Photography by Olivia Ross / Chattanooga Area Food Bank Chief Development Officer Dominique K. Brandt

When Dominique K. Brandt signed on in mid-September as chief development officer at the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, she brought more than skills honed at nonprofits in Chattanooga and her native Miami.

She also brought an understanding of food insecurity, rooted in a memorable childhood visit to family in the Dominican Republic.

"There was a girl I'd play with when we'd visit," Brandt says. "Her mom came over one night, and one of my aunts asked her what she'd (fed) her children that evening. She said she hadn't given them anything because she didn't have anything. My aunt gave her some food and told her to go home and make dinner for her kids.

"I was stunned. I wasn't raised with money, but we always had a fridge full of food at home. I could not conceive of how someone could be food insecure, but I learned (then) what it was."

Brandt says she's "always had a heart" for nonprofit work, but put in 15 years in Miami in the legal field, including time as a paralegal. That work, she says, gave her the flexibility she needed to raise her son, Ian.

"In 2008, when my son got to where he could drive himself, I was able to focus on what I really wanted as a career," she says. "I wanted my work time to be as meaningful as the time I spent away from work, on causes that meant a lot to me."

Brandt says she went to work for Habitat for Humanity in Miami, where she'd been a veteran volunteer. She landed a position with Habitat when she moved to Chattanooga in 2013, spending more than six years there, and two more at United Way of Greater Chattanooga before stepping away.

"I needed to take a breath and determine my next step," she says. "Lots of friends reached out with lots of opportunities."

Brandt landed at the Food Bank, in a newly created position.

"It was an intentional decision on the part of the leadership to pull together all of the pieces involved in development into one cohesive department," she says, adding that a combination of at least two factors is resulting in a "dire" situation for both individuals and families.

"Support systems put in for the pandemic are sunsetting," she says, "and inflation is growing so rapidly. People are having to make hard decisions between buying groceries and medicine. Parents will eat less so their kids can have more."

But something Brandt's learned in nearly a decade in Chattanooga makes her optimistic.

"This has got to be the most philanthropic city in the United States," she says. "Corporations, foundations ... the opportunities are there, and people always step up.

"It's always challenging to raise dollars," she adds, "But I never wake up thinking, 'Ugh, I've got to go to work.' I'm one of the lucky ones who gets up knowing I'm going to love every minute (at work) that day."

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