Notable Neighbors

December 5, 2023 at 2:40 p.m.

By DEAN LAUX Columnist

An Ideal Man For An Ideal Career

Craig and Judy are enjoying retired life in Englewood.


Craig Shniderman was born in Washington D.C., the “City of Lawyers,” in 1947, attached to a family tree laden with attorneys, so it would hardly be a surprise for Craig to become a lawyer. The surprise is that he did not. “I thought about becoming an attorney,” he says, but he decided on another career path. When he graduated in 1965 from the Maret School, a self-described “independent” K-12 institution in D.C., he matriculated at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, majoring in English and psychology and earning a teaching certificate from the school of education. “I was interested initially in being an educational psychologist, but my first job was as a special education teacher in a public school in Detroit,” he recalls.

That could be considered tough duty. The neighborhood was rundown and later became a crime-ridden, drug-infested district. Most of his students, aged 14 to 17, were afflicted with psychological, social and learning problems. “I liked it,” he says. “They were nice kids. It was a good experience. But my interest was not in classroom work, teaching math and social studies. I liked interacting with kids with difficulties and challenges. I liked counseling them.”

He liked it so much that, after first earning a master’s degree in educational psychology at Michigan, he moved back to D.C. and completed another master’s degree in social work at Catholic University in 1973. “That gave me a better position to work in a counseling capacity,” he acknowledges.

While earning his MSW degree he worked part-time at what was then the Community Psychiatric Clinic, an outpatient facility where he counseled children and adolescents. Over the next few years he worked for several different social service organizations, “always in the private sector,” he notes, and all of them charitably inclined 501(c)3 organizations. Along the way he became more and more interested in management and fundraising. “I became familiar with some grant-making foundations in the Washington area, and I started writing proposals and arranging meetings with foundation administrators. That evolved into working for a grant-making organization myself, The Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation. As a program officer, I became familiar with hundreds of organizations in the Washington area that applied to us for grants. I’d go out and visit with them, talk with the staff and with the volunteers. It was an interesting way to learn about the Greater Washington community.” That’s a modest way to put it. He got a fabulous education in how to do fundraising for any nonprofit looking to get money. It was a goldstrike for his career, and Craig Shniderman became a treasure waiting to be discovered.

The right opportunity came along in 1996. A few years earlier, the Westminster Presbyterian Church in D.C. had opened its small basement kitchen for use in preparing food packages to send to members of its congregation or people they knew who had AIDS, an epidemic disease that had resulted in the deaths of about a million people in the United States alone. The operation was called Foods & Friends, a registered nonprofit that had very little money and needed professional help. Enter Craig Shniderman. Food & Friends interviewed him as one of the applicants for the job of Executive Director, and with his background, it was a slam dunk. He got the job. Why did he take it? “I liked the interviewers and volunteers I talked with. I saw that they didn’t have great resources, but they had a great idea and great prospects. I thought I could make a difference with them. The staff was young and not very experienced, but they were wonderful people who were powerfully motivated to work and do good for the community.” That’s exactly what Craig longed to do.

The job facing them was enormous: first, finding and vetting the folks among hundreds of thousands who were afflicted with AIDS; second, obtaining the right foods for them; third, staffing their kitchen with the proper chefs to prepare nutritious meals; fourth, delivering the massive amounts of food to those HIV-afflicted recipients and their kids; and fifth, finding the money to fund all of this activity on a continuous basis, week after week. 

Craig’s first move was literally to move. Food & Friends was in a rough neighborhood and needed larger quarters. He led them in putting together a capital campaign that raised about $1 million for a 12,000 sq. ft. facility which became their headquarters for the next seven years – at  which time they undertook another, much larger capital campaign that raised $9 million for a permanent home base in northeast D.C. 

“We had a small staff initially, 16 to 18 paid workers and about 400 volunteers who came in part-time during the course of the year,” Craig points out. But they were destined to expand exponentially in the coming years under his leadership. Where did the new money come from to support all this change? Says Craig: “We had a development staff, a fundraising staff, and we would apply to charitable foundations which I knew about from my own work in foundations. We did direct mail campaigns, and we did corporate fundraising. There were hundreds of corporations that would support us.” And Craig knew many of them personally.

One of the most interesting and productive relationships was with the Marriott Corporation under CEO Bill Marriott, which provided meeting space and volunteers, and with the Marriott Family Foundation, which provided money: millions of dollars to support the cause that Food & Friends represented. “When I started there, we were delivering maybe 150,000 meals a year in D.C., Maryland and Virginia,” Craig avers. “When I left we were delivering a million meals a year. Now, five years later, it’s just short of two million meals a year.”

Meeting President Obama was a special treat for Craig and the folks at Food & Freinds.


Getting volunteers to work in the kitchen or deliver food was, of course, critical to the success of Food & Friends. “We always had two or three volunteer coordinators, who would go out into the community and speak to church and synagogue groups, college alumni groups and private schools,” Craig says. Among the many school kids who volunteered in the Food & Friends kitchen were Malia and Sasha Obama, and that led to an inquiry from the White House as to whether Food & Friends would be amenable to a visit from the President. Of course, Craig said yes, and after some weeks of background checks and visits to the facility by Secret Service personnel, it was agreed that the President would be there on Martin Luther King Day. “The President’s office told us that the President didn’t want us to do anything special for his visit,” Craig remembers. “Well, we turned the building upside down for a week, because it was one of the most unusual days we ever had. There was nothing ordinary about it.” The visit by a sitting President is quite a story in itself.

The President was not the only notable person to visit Food & Friends. Rock stars and other celebs came by. “We worked with the staff members of elected officials, especially members of Congress,” Craig says. The staff members would come in and have a good time. That would lead to their congressman following suit. He or she would come in, put on an apron and, recognizing that this was a nonpolitical activity, relax enough to just have fun packing food boxes with the other volunteers, especially the kids. “We had members of Congress who came for years,” Craig exclaims.

The press and other media had a considerable interest in Food & Friends’ activities. “They wanted to meet the recipients of our service and the volunteers who were providing it,” says Craig. “They’d go out on the deliveries with the volunteers, and they enjoyed it. We had an enormous amount of media coverage, with all the major networks.” 

Finding those recipients was an important part of Food & Friends’ activity. “Many people were referred by medical practitioners or health departments,” Craig says. “Part of our outreach was to referral agencies, to let people know that we were there and able to provide meals. A lot of people self-referred. We did a lot of fundraising events and information fairs” to attract attention as well as money. And in the year 2000, Food & Friends expanded eligibility from people with AIDS only to people with cancer unrelated to AIDS, and then over the years to people with neurological illnesses, advanced diabetes and sick people in nutritional crisis. Fundraising became ever more essential to the feeding of so many people in need.

Don't mess with this guy: Craig at rock-steady boxong.


Having brought Food & Friends to a more-than-sixfold increase in size, with strong fundraising skills, an excellent paid staff of 65 professionals and thousands of volunteers reaching out to help people in need, Craig Shniderman resigned in January of 2019. “I had a very able successor in place as executive director, and I had sung my song,” he says. He felt he needed to spend time with his family – wife Judy and grown children Jessica, Andrew, Emily and Katie – and take care of his own health, having been afflicted with Parkinson’s disease for 16 years. “You can’t concentrate on your fitness and health if you’re working 60 hours a week,” Craig admits. That was his regimen at Foods & Friends for 23 years. “I’ve had a wonderful life. I was really privileged to have a job where I could do good work in the community with lots of nice and very capable people. But these past five years since my retirement have been wonderful, because I am married to an outstanding human being, and we have great kids and a lot of fun as a family.” He keeps himself fit walking “miles a day,” does what is called a “rock-steady boxing program” for people with Parkinson’s, and works with a personal trainer every week. As a result, he has the pace and step of a frisky young man.

You could say that Craig was not only an ideal choice for an ideal career, but he’s also having a pretty ideal retirement as well.

Dean Laux is exploring  interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: [email protected]. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person’s background.