Stephen Michelson: An Entrepreneur Who Became an Anti-Hunger Innovator

One thing that’s remarkable about Stephen A. Michelson is that he not only had multiple careers, but they were all startlingly different from one another. As a young man, he was such a good baseball player that the New York Yankees offered him a contract to play in their farm system. He went on to become a medical-device entrepreneur who marketed innovative Velcro-attached splints and developed an electrical nerve stimulation device that eventually was licensed by Dow Corning Wright Corp. After that, he founded a chain of pasta restaurants and also became one of the world’s biggest importers of exotic saltwater fish.

Michelson, who died on Oct. 6 at age 74 in Lauderhill, Fla. (though his death was not reported in the Miami Herald until Wednesday), was pretty successful in all those careers. But the Brooklyn native’s most outstanding achievement came after he retired in 1988 at age 50. A friend and former employer, Ben Grenald, told Michelson that he’d noticed a market dumping crates of unsold cheese that hadn’t yet passed the expiration date. Grenald suggested to Michelson, who had some time on his hands, that they join forces to collect still-usable food discarded by markets and provide it to charities and the families of airline workers who were then on strike in Miami. Before long, the two men were feeding 12,000 people each day, and Michelson was working every waking hour on the effort.

The following year, Michelson and Grenald co-founded a Miami-based community food bank, which eventually joined forces with other anti-hunger organizations, and today is known as Stop Hunger, Inc. By the mid-2000s, the charity was providing about 500,000 meals each month to impoverished inhabitants of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach, according to a 2005 Miami Herald article.

“People always say, ‘Well, I would if I could, if I had the time, if I had the money.’ Well, I have all that,” Michelson told the Herald in 1989. “I’m consumed by it . . . I can’t stand to know that one day I’m not doing it, the food will be thrown out.”Another fascinating thing about Michelson was that he didn’t mind crossing religious boundaries. Though Jewish by birth, he switched to practicing Buddhism, and actually met the last of his four wives, Jessica Michelson, while they were both volunteering to drive elderly people to Catholic church services in the mid-1980s.  But altruism was his true faith. He told the Herald that giving to others gave him “a glow of spirituality that I’ve never experienced in my life.”

 

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