Business and Ethics

Executive Leadership Program Alumna in Service to Others

June 2, 2021

Beverly Graham

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Albers Executive Leadership grad Beverly Graham is helping fight hunger, one lunch at a time.

Beverly Graham, ’06, is the founding executive director of Seattle’s OSL (formerly known as OPERATION: Sack Lunch), which was created in 1989 and serves food to those in King County who are struggling with hunger.

Here is a Q&A with Graham, a graduate of Albers Executive Leadership program, from the Seattle U Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability spring newsletter.

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

I was in the 2006 cohort of 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 (formerly OPERATION: Sack Lunch) leadership. I was privileged to be among cxecutives 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 Albers and my fellow cohort members. OSL had survived 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.

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

OSL 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 7,000 to 8,500 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 businessesSeattle U has been one of our food-rescue partners for three 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 restriction and those with medical needs. We even take care of the nutritional needs of the pets belonging to our guests!

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 COVID-19 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 frontline since day one. Several of our staff contracted COVID, some becoming seriously ill and long haulers. Our former executive chef passed away from COVID. 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. We went from 3,000 meals a day to 9,000 meals a day in two months. This was a big plate to step up to, but we did it.

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

There are so many ways to engage with OSL and the people we serve. We miss our volunteers! When COVID has passed 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 or 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 also the love by which they are created and offered.

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