10605037880?profile=RESIZE_710xGreg Hazle, who used to work in corporate finance and project management, has led Boca Helping Hands’ expansion to other sites amid the demands of the pandemic. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Tao Woolfe

Greg Hazle, a chemical engineer and longtime corporate executive, never imagined himself heading a charitable organization, but when Boca Helping Hands itself needed a hand, he gave his heart and soul.
It was supposed to be a temporary gig for Hazle, who had served on Boca Helping Hands’ board of directors for about four years. But he found, much to his surprise, that the role was incredibly rewarding.
“After a few years I found I really enjoyed it. I found it to be a great privilege,” Hazle said, the lilt of his native Jamaica trickling through his words. “I was working with people I admired, but hadn’t met a lot in the corporate world — selfless, idealistic people.”
Gary Peters, who has been president of the board for 16 years, said the admiration was mutual. The board members, the staff and the volunteers liked Hazle’s soft-spoken, kind, intelligent management style.
“When our previous executive director retired, I asked Greg to step in as interim director,” Peters said. “He so liked the job, and was such a good fit, we asked him to stay.”
That was five years ago. Since then, Boca Helping Hands — a 24-year-old organization that feeds thousands of hungry people each year and provides job training and emergency assistance — has expanded to offer services to much of Palm Beach County.
“It was a very challenging role. We began expanding our food distribution and then COVID hit,” Peters said. “Greg managed the whole thing through the pandemic, and raised revenues, without missing a beat.”
The feeding program, which began as a humble soup kitchen in a church annex building, is now housed in several buildings off Glades Road. Sit-down hot meals were phased out because of the pandemic, but hot to-go meals are served Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Cars now line up for blocks and take turns driving into a canvas-covered distribution site. Volunteers quickly load bags of groceries into the cars Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Thursdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Besides the main east Boca facility, there are now distribution centers in west Boca, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach and Lake Worth Beach.
Hazle said his background working in corporate finance and project management for both Florida Power & Light and Cemex, the international cement and building materials company, helped him figure out how to expand Helping Hands. “I brought to the job a lot of corporate disciplines — corporate governance and financial management,” he said. “But I kept an open mind about how I could contribute to the community.”
While listening to the donors and community advocates, Hazle found that his assumptions about the community of Boca Raton were completely incorrect.
“My stereotypical thinking was that Boca Raton’s residents were very self-involved,” Hazle said. “It is actually a very generous community that celebrates philanthropy.”
And, by listening to his employees, he learned to “unleash the capacity of people who want to become leaders in the organization.”
Bill Harper, Hazle’s director of food and warehouse operations, said he admires his boss for his business savvy and his people skills.
“He is a breath of fresh air, a pleasure to work with,” Harper said. “He’s my supervisor, but also a mentor in life. He really listens. He hears you and understands you, but he doesn’t try to fix it. He’s good people.”
Hazle, 66, lives in Boca Raton with Tina, his wife of 40 years. The couple has two grown daughters — one in Long Island, New York, and one in Atlanta — and several grandchildren.
He said there is a spiritual component to his life and his work. He is a member of Spanish River Church and a member of the school of ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Harper, who described the organization’s volunteers as “the best in Palm Beach County,” said they, too, thrive in the warmth of appreciation fostered by Hazle.
“This is the best day of my week,” said volunteer Don Mandelbaum, who has been serving hot meals to Boca Helping Hands clients for seven years. “I feel good about being here — about what I’m doing.”

For more information about Boca Helping Hands, visit www.bocahelpinghands.org.

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