Linda Nageotte is the President & CEO of Food Lifeline, a nonprofit organization that rescues food and provides meals to end hunger today for thousands of people across Western Washington and works regionally to provide a long-term solution to hunger that ensures that everybody has enough food to eat. Learn more at foodlifeline.org.
What do you want readers who are unfamiliar with Food Lifeline to know about your organization?
People are often surprised to hear how much food is going to waste—nearly 40 percent of our country’s food ends up in a landfill—and how much is therefore available to feed hungry people. We’ve figured out a way to disrupt the system. We work with farmers, grocery stores, restaurants, food manufacturers and other producers to divert and rescue a large portion of this perfectly good food that would otherwise go to waste in our state. We then work with 300 food banks, shelters and meal programs to distribute this food to their hungry clients across Western Washington. But, at the same time we recognize that just feeding people isn’t going to solve hunger for the long-term. So, we are working with legislators and advocates to help shape policy, and we are partnering with organizations that are addressing the needs of low-income families.
What do you see as the biggest challenge related to the issue of hunger in Seattle?
The growing wage gap is an enormous challenge for our region, and it has to be tackled. Seattle has become one of the most inequitable cities in the nation. What that means for us is that even though we are making significant progress feeding more people every year, there are simply more and more people who need our help. This gap is changing the landscape of who is in line at our area food banks. The majority of the people we feed have are employed. Even with the city’s $15 minimum wage, the average worker would have to work as many as 80 hours per week to make a livable income because of Seattle’s high cost of living. This growing wage gap affects nonprofits throughout our region as we are collectively challenged to serve more and more people who are struggling.
What are the most exciting trends or opportunities for solving the issue of hunger locally?
The opportunities to source and distribute more fresh produce in our state is hugely exciting. We’ve recently formed a new partnership called Feeding the Northwest together with Oregon Food Bank, Idaho Foodbank and eastern Washington’s Second Harvest. We will source 51 million pounds of fresh produce this year to feed communities throughout the Northwest, as well as people facing hunger in other regions of the country. All of this food will be produce that there wasn’t a market for—fruits and vegetables that otherwise would be fed to livestock, plowed under or left on trees. This type of partnership also engages farmers and growers in hunger relief work, adding some key voices to this movement.
As technology consultants, we are interested in how technology impacts non-profits and the communities they serve. How does Food Lifeline use technology to further its mission?
At Food Lifeline we use cutting-edge technology to manage our inventory and our online ordering system that allows our partner food banks and meals programs to order the food that is most needed in their community. These are systems and technologies that are mainstream business products, but have been customized to suit the food bank environment. We try to do this as efficiently and effectively as any business would operate because it allows us to maximize the number of people we can feed.
How can the Seattle business community engage with Food Lifeline?
One thing we still depend upon that is not a new technology is our volunteer program. More than 13,000 annual volunteers help us sort and repack food six days a week at our South Park facility, the Hunger Solution Center. This older model of doing business is the best way to both move food and bring more people into the movement to end hunger. I believe that in order to solve hunger for the long-term we need to engage many different partners in our community—volunteers, food donors, funders, corporate partners and community-based organizations that work with hungry people. West Monroe Partners is a great example of how a company can get involved in our hunger relief work by bringing in teams to volunteer to sort and pack food, participating in events that build awareness of hunger like Food Frenzy and being a voice for this work to their constituents. When companies demonstrate their corporate responsibility and engage in important issues like hunger, it’s powerful.
What’s your favorite thing about living and working in Seattle?
Seattle has everything—water, mountains and a fantastic urban environment. I also love that we are only three hours to Portland and three hours to Vancouver, B.C. It’s a culturally rich environment here in the Northwest. And, the people who live here care deeply about their community, both in preserving all of the things that make this area a wonderful place to live and also in making sure their neighbors are flourishing as well.