There’s plenty of pro bono work to go around these days — consider the efforts of lawyers to help people affected by President Trump’s executive order on immigration — but a new initiative led by Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft is designed to tackle an age-old problem in New York City: hunger.
The New York firm is drumming up support in the legal community for canned food drives, soup kitchens, and food pantries throughout the city’s five boroughs to assist Food Bank for New York City in the non-profit’s nearly four-decade quest to end food insecurity.
“What I’ve found is that if you give people a chance to see what the need is, people want to do something about it,” said Lary Stromfeld, a member of Cadwalader’s management committee. “It’s just a question of giving them the opportunity.”
The 2017 campaign Stromfeld founded, aptly named “Justice Served: A firm commitment to ending hunger” by Food Bank staff, kicked off earlier this month and runs through March 17, but the effort continues year round.
Participants include the law firms Alston & Bird; Jones Day; Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel; O’Melveny & Myers; Ropes & Gray; Sidley Austin; and White & Case, as well as the legal departments of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo.
“It’s really communities helping communities,” said David C. Djaha, a partner and member of the policy committee at Ropes & Gray, whose firm got involved in Justice Served this fall.
So far, Ropes & Gray has held a canned food drive, taken a group of lawyers and staff to Food Bank’s Bronx warehouse to repack food for distribution to shelters and food pantries, and organized opportunities for people to serve meals.
“I view Ropes & Gray as a community, and we’re banding together to help our neighbors in New York City,” said Djaha. “It’s very different than just writing a check. They really like that they can roll up their sleeves, get to work, and make change.”
Cadwalader, for its part, has had a hand in Food Bank since the group was formed in 1983. At that time, John F. “Jack” Fritts, then a partner and now senior counsel, was tapped by local advocates to help create the non-profit organization. Fritts helped bring Stromfeld on board (literally: Fritts serves as secretary of the group’s board and Stromfeld is a recently appointed member).
“Over time, Jack and I would be talking about the great things Food Bank was doing, and I got more interested in it,” said Stromfeld. “The more I learned about the need in New York City, I just said, ‘There’s got to be something I could do.’”
After pitching in on his own time, Stromfeld wanted to go bigger. First, Cadwalader paired up with client Morgan Stanley to help out. When that collaboration proved successful (they ran out of room at their first joint volunteer event), Stromfeld decided to expand the campaign to the broader New York City legal community and Justice Served was born.
In 2016, the campaign’s inaugural year, lawyers, law firms, and in-house legal departments raised more than 300,000 meals. According to Food Bank, approximately 1.4 million New York City residents rely on soup kitchens and food pantries for food each year, especially women, children, seniors, and veterans. Stromfeld was particularly struck by the fact that the kosher community has one of the highest needs in the five boroughs, which explains why Justice Served includes an option to direct relief specifically to that community, an effort that resulted in 40,000 kosher-for-Passover meals last year.
Margarette Purvis, the president and chief executive officer of Food Bank for New York City, said the Justice Served campaign, which builds on existing networks among professionals, is a model Food Bank plans to extend to other industries.
“Compassion is the best way to connect people,” she said. “Any time you can embed workplace compassion, it’s not only good for the cause, it’s also good for those companies—it shows their employees a different side.”
For Fritts, the Justice Served campaign, which benefits an organization he helped come into being more than 30 years ago, has a full-circle feel to it. He said lawyers have an obligation to give back to their communities and that they benefit from doing so as well.
“You feel better about the world when you can get something done that’s useful,” he said.