Often we hear of leaders who are dedicated to the growth of organizations, regardless of whether the expansion is needed, an approach of ‘growth for growth’s sake.’
In the case of Good Cheer, the organization has experienced significant growth, particularly over the last decade and a half. This impressive growth is due in no small part to the subtle shift that emphasizes respect and choice. This respect for the client is institutionalized in the culture of the Good Cheer now, thanks to Executive Director, Kathy McCabe who introduced the Family Support Principles to the organization.
When McCabe took over the Directorship in 2002, she brought the Family Support Principles that she had learned during some work with the Family Policy Council. When she started at Good Cheer, Kathy saw the incredibly important work being done by incredibly caring and dedicated volunteers and staff, and knew that a few changes might make the organization work even better for those it served. Of primary importance to Kathy was making it so that food bank clients did not need to walk through the retail thrift store to get their food. She perceived that walking through this very public space could be a barrier to some people needing food assistance.
Additionally, much of the community knew Good Cheer to be a great thrift store, but what was not so widely understood was the impact it was having as a food bank. McCabe and her organization began a significant marketing campaign to tell the story of Good Cheer, so that the community could more fully grasp its significance and importance.
Working with the South Whidbey Family Resource Center, Kathy began re-educating her staff, and volunteers with a focus on the Family Support Principles.
Kathy envisioned a location where public exposure would not be a barrier to people who needed food assistance, a community that understood the importance of the services the organization provided, and a staff and volunteer team that employed the Family Support Principles, and clients who had the power of choice when determining which food to access. Thankfully for our South Whidbey community, all of these things have come to fruition.
The current location of the Good Cheer Food Bank off of Bayview Road opened its doors in 2007. In addition to the new location, one of the most significant changes to Good Cheer’s food bank was the adoption of a point system intended to provide food bank clients with more choice. Kathy and her colleague Joe Grubber from the University District Food Bank had discussed this idea, though had not come up with specific steps for how to put this idea to work. Within Good Cheer, Kathy incorporated board members Louise Prewitt and Jim Troxel, and dedicated staffer Rita Tullock in creating the point system. Families receive 70 points to use at the food bank, where they can choose how to spend their points, just as a customer at a grocery store would spend his/her money. The food bank incentivizes healthy eating with healthy foods such as fresh vegetables ringing up at 1 point.
Key to being able to offer fresh produce so readily are the Good Cheer Garden and the BigACRE. Although Kathy is quick to credit Cary Peterson as being the catalyst that made this possible and owes much of its success to Cary and later staff and volunteers, it long been a hope of Kathy’s to bring agriculture and fresh produce to Good Cheer. Started in 2009, the garden is highly visible statement to anyone who passes by Good Cheer that the food bank prioritizes fresh, healthy food for all of its community members, regardless of their purchasing power. Planned in 2015 and begun in 2016, the BigACRE is the newest addition Good Cheer’s ability to provide fresh produce to community members. Located on land behind the old Bayview School building that is owned by the South Whidbey School District the BigACRE is a project started with the specific goal of making fresh produce available year-round in the food bank, as well as the local school cafeterias.
The BigACRE is a testament to what can happen when a coalition of partners come together to advance a cause. In this case, it’s making fresh produce available to members of the community. It is also a testament to what can be accomplished when leaders develop a great team, and allow those team members to flourish.
Kathy’s tenure at Good Cheer is soon coming to an end. When she transitions out of her role as Executive Director on July 10, she will do so knowing that she has guided Good Cheer through growth that is not only physical, but also emotional in nature. We have seen the transformational power of offering food bank clients greater choice and treating them with the great respect they deserve. This is certainly a trend we can all get behind.
For more information, visit the Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores website.