Interview with Beverly Graham, SU Alumna ('06)

Beverly Graham, Founding Executive Director of Operation Sack Lunch



Meet Beverly Graham

Beverly Graham is the Founding Executive Director of Operation Sack Lunch (OSL). Beverly graduated from Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics, Executive Leadership program in 2006. OSL was created in 1989 and serves food to those in King County who are struggling with hunger. Seattle University has been an OSL food rescue partner since 2018.

Could you describe what OSL does in the community and how the organization works with partners such as Seattle University towards recovering food and providing meals to those who are struggling with hunger?

OSL, formerly known as OPERATION: Sack Lunch, is a 32-year program that began with the delivery of 30 sack lunches to the streets of Seattle in 1989. We are currently preparing, delivering, and serving 7000 to 8500 no-cost, nutrient dense, culturally appropriate meals, each day, into the emergency meal system throughout Seattle, as well as South, East, and North King County. In 2020 we served more than 1.9 million meals to 72 shelters/agencies/programs.

Our meals are made from the more than 3 million pounds of food and other resources we rescue/recover/procure annually, with our Food In Motion food recovery program, combined with the produce and protein we purchase from local farmers and businesses. Seattle U has been one of our food rescue partners for 3 years, contributing excess quality food that may otherwise land in the waste stream.

We serve meals that cater to the specific dietary needs of elders, children, Indigenous people, people of color, those living unsheltered, homeless Veterans, those with faith based restrictions, and those with medical needs, including but not limited to, COVID quarantine shelters, gluten intolerance, renal failure, diabetes, vegetarian, and vegan. We deliver product and supplies to domestic violence shelters on the Eastside, Boys and Girls Clubs, after-school programs, summer children’s programs, and to other meal provider programs throughout King County. We even take care of the nutritional needs of the pets belonging to our guests!

When COVID began, we only had 39 staff members. To meet the need placed on us by COVID we currently have 73 staff members. We hire from a variety of sources, however, we are an organization that embraces the “another chance” ethic. Many of our staff have been hired from the criminal justice system, or from our client base, providing training and education pertinent to the work, and are vital members of the OSL family. We work through the challenges and struggles with our team members to facilitate positive forward motion. We know that our diversity and culture are one of our greatest organizational strengths.

What are the main challenges in providing high quality, nutritious, and sustainably sourced meals to those in need, both before and during the COVID pandemic?

Our greatest challenge throughout COVID19 has been the incredible amount of work and overtime required to serve the nutritional needs of the communities we serve through a pandemic. All staff pivoted into direct service, and the effort was extraordinary. OSL is considered a first responder, and OSL staff has been on the front line since day one. Several of our staff contracted COVID, some becoming seriously ill and long haulers. Our former Executive Chef passed away from COVID and another staff member passed from complications related to the COVID vaccine. It has been a tough year; physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The stress was overwhelming at times. While others paused, OSL had all rockets fired… To say we are exhausted is an understatement. We went from 3000 meals a day to 9000 meals a day in two months. This was a big plate to step up to, but we did it.

Another challenge was cost of product. With suppliers closing down due to COVID, and the wild fires in California and Oregon, protein and produce prices skyrocketed and more than half our daily meals went from hot delivery to having to pack in to-go containers. We are using 11,000 to-go containers per week. The cost is astronomical!

Throughout COVID, OSL has been the liaison between City, County, and State Governments, as well as the Department of Health and National Guard, representing Meal Providers and securing and delivering PPE and other much needed resources for the emergency meal system.

We concentrate our meal efforts towards creating and advocating food equity and food sovereignty: balance and choice. We focus on removing barriers prohibiting underserved populations from the ability to make decisions about their own nutritional needs. We do this by offering choices, and by providing foods that are healthful, fresh, and culturally appropriate.

How does your Seattle University education inform your leadership and work at OSL?

I was in the 2006 cohort of the Seattle University, Albers School of Business and Economics, Executive Leadership program. I was invited on a scholarship, with a recommendation from Peter Morton, who was the HR Vice President for Boeing.  This experience changed the direction of OSL’s leadership. I was privileged to be among Executives from the corporate world, in many areas with many years of expertise and experience. I am forever grateful for the mentoring and the guidance of Marilyn Gist, PhD, the outstanding staff and exemplary educators from the Albers School, and my fellow cohort members. As an activist and musician, I am an “accidental” Executive Director! OSL had been used to survival through tenacity and willpower. The executive leadership program allowed us to develop a team ethic, over the years, and has a continuing influence on our organizational development.

How can Seattle University students and employees engage in and support the work of OSL?

Wow! There are so many ways to engage with OSL and the people we serve. We miss our volunteers! When COVID is past and we open back up to volunteers, we would love to host Seattle U students and staff. Product donation from SU contributes to many of our meals.

We need people to:

  • Serve on our board or a board committee.
  • Help fundraise.

We work without fanfare or notoriety, so help with spreading the word about the work we do in the community is paramount!  Our primary product is not only the meals that we produce, deliver, and serve, but the love by which they are created and offered. Excellent food, nutrient dense, culturally appropriate, is our way to Only Serve Love, each and every day.

OSL continues to be instrumental in bringing about fundamental changes toward food equity and food sovereignty in the emergency meal system since our inception in 1989. We look forward to many more years of service.

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