Faces of Food Safety: Michael Gafrancesco
Each day is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, especially during this time of year. Many American families face shortages of food at any given time throughout the year, and many FSIS employees volunteer their time to help their fellow Americans in that struggle. Since 2009, federal workers have participated in the Feds Feed Families (FFF) campaign, which is a government-wide effort led by the USDA, in partnership with other federal agencies, to donate non-perishable food to food banks across the nation to help supplement families in times of need.
Michael Gafrancesco, a 41-year-FSIS consumer safety inspector in Syracuse, N.Y., made a tremendous difference in the lives of others during this year’s campaign. As one of the campaign’s leaders for the Philadelphia district, Gafrancesco alone donated 8,853 pounds of non-perishable food items to the campaign, making him the top FSIS contributor this year. Gafrancesco was honored with a plaque, an award and an induction into the USDA Hall of Fame at the FFF’s closing ceremony on November 13 on the Jamie L. Whitten Building patio. At the ceremony, Gafrancesco humbly stated that he didn’t earn these honors alone and attributes much of the success to his co-workers and civilian employees at the establishment where he works.
USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden presents Michael Gafrancesco with an award for his efforts in the Feds Feed Families campaign during the event’s closing ceremony on Nov. 13. USDA Photo.
“I am accepting this [honor] not for me, but for my team leader Alisha Minier, all the people throughout the FSIS organization and the establishment’s employees that worked tirelessly to collect all the donations to help make Feds Feed Families successful,” Gafrancesco said. “They are the ones this award represents; I was just one person involved. All the CSIs, enforcement and investigations personnel, analysis officers, public health veterinarians and management and district office personnel deserve this award,” Gafrancesco continued.
Gafrancesco explains how the contributions snowballed simply as a result of him doing his part. “I was bringing in boxes and bags of donations to store in the government office; people at the warehouse asked what I was doing. I told them of the Feds Feed Families drive [the USDA] was conducting and that the warehouse was chosen as a collection point,” Gafrancesco said. He encouraged his co-workers to participate in the campaign. “I asked inspectors to talk to families and friends for food items they could donate, and they did. I would collect the items and store them in the government office, and the majority of the donations were staples that people could make healthy meals with, such as cans of tuna, soups, frozen meat and poultry pot pies, pasta, cereals and baking goods,” he continued.
"I told myself that I could really do something for my country by protecting the consumer, and that is the path I took."
Gafrancesco also received generous donations from the establishment’s civilian workforce who were interested in helping with the campaign. However, before Gafrancesco accepted donations from them, he sought guidance from Douglas Keeler, USDA’s FFF national program manager, about the rules associated with receiving donations from civilian employees. “Mr. Keeler said I could accept donations from the establishment’s employees, but I couldn’t solicit them in any way. They were the reason why I received so many donations in July and August,” he explained.
When not performing his duties as an inspector and spearheading campaigns, Gafrancesco is a union president for Local 521 and the Sergeant-At-Arms for the North East Council. He began his career in protecting public health in 1971, when he started working with New York State in egg processing inspection with the hopes of one day becoming a USDA inspector. Gafrancesco explained that at the time, “There was a federal hiring freeze on USDA meat inspector positions – a job I wanted since I was a young man.”
Gafrancesco describes his path to achieving that goal, beginning with his summer breaks while in college, when he would work for his father who was employed at a meat packing facility. Gafrancesco received firsthand knowledge of what USDA inspectors did to protect the food supply. “I befriended an inspector, who kept telling me that being an inspector was a great career field to work in, and I admired the work that inspectors did and the respect they received from the public, so I waited until the hiring freeze ended and immediately applied to the USDA,” he said. “I told myself that I could really do something for my country by protecting the consumer, and that is the path I took. I was also a John F. Kennedy-era kid and I followed his speech, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ That is what I believed in then and what I believe in now, and I knew that a job with the USDA would afford me the opportunity to go anywhere in the United States.”
Gafrancesco is an outstanding example of an employee who is dedicated to his job, the success of the Feds Feed Families campaign and to the agency and its goals. Through his successful outreach in his community, he is increasing the public’s awareness of FSIS, safe food-handling practices and other measures to prevent harmful foodborne illnesses.
This year, USDA employees collectively donated 4.3 million pounds of food, which is nearly half of the 8.9 million pounds of food donated by all the federal agencies combined.