This post marks the beginning of a new series highlighting our amazing board members! First up, meet Katie Stratton, Leah’s Pantry Board member Secretary:
Tell us a little about your background and how that background led to working with Adrienne and Leah’s Pantry.
I’ve lived in California off and on for about twelve years. I’m very aware of the population in San Francisco and being able to sustain people living outside who I sometimes call city campers, which other people call homeless people. We have a lot of really amazing programs, but there’s still a lot of gaps in executing a lot of the programs that San Francisco has to offer. It’s really amazing how Adrienne started initially wanting to feed her family; wanting to be really healthy with her family with homemade baby food, but then realizing that while she has access there are a lot of families that don’t. It’s a testament to Adrienne’s selflessness around her beliefs, helping others, and giving people the tools they really need in order to help themselves. Leah’s Pantry helps enable people around the concept of “Teach someone to fish and they can feed themselves” versus just giving them fish. That is something that I believe Leah’s Pantry does in a lot of ways.
My husband and I are very dedicated to help make our community a better place and have it be a healthier place. I feel really honored to get to work with an organization that is trying to make an actionable change. A lot of groups will take funding and create programs that don’t really initiate action, and I think that action and the measuring of those results is something that differentiates Leah’s Pantry. It’s why so many people want Leah’s Pantry to come in and help them to establish programs because they have a track record of being able to come in, create action and really see results of the constituents that are receiving the benefit of these different programs.
Did you have a background and interest in food, nutrition, and healthy eating and, to further extend that, as you say, city campers, the homeless population and low income prior to being introduced to Leah’s Pantry?
I took classes in college on nutrition, but my background was in business. I love food, I love cooking. It’s always been a personal interest, similar to where Adrienne started; wanting her family to eat healthy, but then realized we have access to so much through both the internet and through all these different means. I’m learning as well as getting to share information with other people as more of a journey than a destination.
My technical background is business and the internet. The EatFresh website is something that I’m really impressed with and proud of. That Leah’s Pantry helps to streamline — considering the adoption of smartphones — and that a lot of these under-served populations actually have access to the internet and at their fingertips to be able to make their lives better. This is piece I’m happy to have a background in to help develop and make sure it’s not just available to the population in San Francisco, but to people in California and the food insecure population throughout the area and even beyond. There are a lot of models EatFresh.org can help.
What aspects of being on the Leah’s Pantry board and part of the Leah’s Pantry family excite you? What are you most passionate about with the work that we do?
I work with several not-for-profit industry groups, and one other I work within the homeless population is called The Learning Shelter. For me, it’s that the model where we actually create a program for sustainability, where people want to hire Leah’s Pantry to come in and actually teach these programs because we’re enabling the population. I get very excited about the idea that we can accomplish so much through training method and be able to scale the program physically. The efficiency behind that; you’re not just one-to-one helping someone, you’re one-to-one helping someone to then take it back to their families and take it back to their communities. It scales a lot better. The scale-ability is the first thing.
The second piece that I’m excited about with Leah’s Pantry is the work we’ve been able to accomplish with such a small, boot-strapped team, and the ability to really help the population in a way that is actionable. The scale-ability and the action of the team are the two biggest things that stand out in my mind.
The third, to me personally being on the board, is having the exposure to the variety of people that I have the chance to work with. Like you said, the “family,” the fact that everyone really does feel like they’re part a family. It’s a way for me to learn and develop my own skills outside of my workplace in a way that I’m not only helping my environment and my community, but I’m also able to take the skills that I have in my workplace and apply them in a different way that will help me learn and grow and develop my own skill set.
How do you feel your skills and talents complement the Leah’s Pantry board? What do you feel are the strongest skills you bring to our community table?
I’ve been in the Bay Area since pretty much the internet started. I went to high school and college when the World Wide Web was coming out. I have been in the tech industry my entire career. It’s something that I bring both from a website development standpoint as well as how we can leverage free tools across the web to allow Leah’s Pantry to be as efficient, useful and effective for our populations as possible… leveraging the scale and the power of the internet as well as the cost efficiency.
I have a background helping small businesses get started in a way that is very boot-strapped, but using funds very efficiently. That’s the value I bring. On top of that, I think my passion for food and my community is another area. Unless you’re not really knowledgeable about the challenges that people have in our community, and see them every day, getting to know them makes it harder to have that impact. That passion around both food and my community is another value that I bring to the board.
In three years where would you like to see Leah’s Pantry?
The closest we can stay tied to the constituents we’re helping, the better. As long as we’re focused on those users that we’re helping and developing our policies around where our needs are, that’s where I’d like to see Leah’s Pantry continue to develop. I think the challenge for any kind of not-for-profit organization is getting funding and getting support. Those initiatives are where we can continue to develop a sustainable revenue stream around being able to not necessarily have to apply for funding, but have people come to us to be independent from a financial standpoint; to be able to really say these are programs we’re creating because our community needs them.
It’s something we can help drive more for our constituents that we’re helping versus having to apply and get funding. That would be an amazing goal for us to have. Whether it be the cookbook we created that’s a revenue stream or more diversification across different ways that we bring in revenue. Not necessarily having to be as dependent on the actual funding and fundraising pieces; I know for any nonprofit that’s a really challenging piece. In three years’ time, it’s hard to go back to the same donors and re-position. The more we can help ourselves become more self-sustaining the better it’ll be for our programs.
What do you think is Leah’s Pantry’s greatest strength?
The fact that we actually address both the agencies that we work with as well as the populations really well. I know the agencies are usually the ones that are our sponsors and clients, per se, but because we then help facilitate their goals, it’s a really big strength that we have both of those perspectives. The fact that we’re able to address needs for consumers that are directly receiving the benefits of the different programs as well as agencies. It’s a really big plus, versus agencies that have a harder time because they have populations they have manage. It gives us flexibility, but it gives us a real opportunity to say we think that the most important thing, based on us both knowing our agents and our consumers, gives us more leeway and flexibility to build our own programs. That’s a really big benefit in the way Leah’s Pantry is set up.
I don’t know if we actually did that on purpose, but it’s a really great position to be in because it just gives us more flexibility. Flexibility is always key in order to continue to stay current and stay evolving your business. When we put kitchens in a bag and gave those to our consumers living in SRO populations it was a really amazing, actionable tool. Along with the cookbook, it really puts all the puzzle pieces together. Knowing that population and knowing that taking one step forward in a positive direction is a big step for a lot of those people. To be able to give them the tools to help facilitate them helping themselves is a really amazing progress that Leah’s Pantry made and these really amazing programs have been really successful.