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Grand Circle Foundation
Home | Gutsy Leaders | Stories of Gutsy Leaders | Catherine D'Amato
President & CEO, Greater Boston Food Bank
earliest memories of visiting her
grandparents' farm in Colorado to her
current role as President & CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank
, Catherine D'Amato
has always found her
life to be centered around feeding the hungry.
was eight years old, her
parents-second-generation Italian-Americans-opened a restaurant in northern California, and she
was active in helping to run it.
"Food has a central position in an ethnic family," she
says, "so working with food has always been second nature to me."
The restaurant closed only two days a year-Thanksgiving and Christmas-and these were holidays the family spent together.
Catherine recalls taking a drive with her
parents one particular Thanksgiving Day.
In that pre-self-serve era, her
father stopped for gas and slipped the attendant an extra five dollars.
asked why such a generous tip, her
father replied, "No one should have to work on Thanksgiving."
Additionally, when the restaurant was open, no one who was hungry was ever turned away.
"If someone came to eat, we fed them," she
"If they offered to wash dishes in exchange for food, the answer was always no."
These were lessons in giving she
The concept of a food bank-that is, a central facility where food is gathered, sorted, and then distributed to organizations and individuals in need-intrigued Catherine so much that she left the Council of Churches to join the San Francisco Food Bank, still in its infancy.
At the time, new food banks were opening across the country.
When The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts was established, Catherine was invited to join the management team.
A singer, composer, and lyricist, Catherine had traveled the country as part of the Youth in Music program and been captivated by the Berkshires.
"Coming from California, I'd never seen anything like it," she
"All the lakes and a plethora of green, as opposed to the brown hills and red rocky soil of California.
eagerly accepted the job in a part of the country she
had fallen in love with.
Gradually, however, Catherine
became convinced that she
could do more.
sights on Boston, whose food bank is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England and one of the largest in the country.
She joined as President & CEO in 1995.
is proud that the food at The Food Bank
is "of the highest quality and safer than ever"-always at the top of her
Behind all the statistics, Catherine
sees the faces of the people her
"A lot of them are nice people who never imagined they would find themselves at a food pantry-until they lost their jobs and their benefits ran out," she
has seen elders who had never tasted yogurt before asking her
what that delicious food was that tasted sweet, like ice cream.
has seen a child who had never seen an orange bouncing it like a ball because he
didn't know what it was.
has seen ethnic people asking what on earth to do with a Thanksgiving turkey, and sharing with them the culinary traditions of each of their homelands.
has seen the "pain, shame, and embarrassment" of people who have to come to ask for food.
also has witnessed the genuine appreciation of those who receive it.
"By providing people with food, we might help a family not lose their home this month, or get clothes for their children, or school supplies," she
"The number-one reason why people work here is our mission."
Extra Helpings Are Always Appreciated
has a "great, highly dedicated" staff of 80 handling warehouse operations, development, marketing, food acquisition, nutrition, and more, the organization relies heavily on volunteers to help meet the demand.
According to Catherine
, there are three key ways that volunteers can support the Food Bank
: money, food, and time.
"Grand Circle Foundation
gives generously of all three," she
reminded us that thanks to The Food Bank
, two thousand kids a day are eating who didn't eat before," says Harriet Lewis.
"They're very unique, involved leaders," Catherine
The Lewises also invited Catherine to join Grand Circle Foundation's Community Advisory Group, a coalition of leaders from the Foundation's long-term nonprofit partners in Boston.
As part of that group, she
enjoyed engaging with her
peers as they sought solutions to common issues.
Challenges remain, however.
For The Food Bank
, the irony to Catherine
is that "there are voluminous amounts of food in this country," as she
"The economy, a death in the family, illness, poverty-there are many reasons why people need it.
There's ample food.
We should be able to get it to the people who need it."
It is with that in mind that Catherine
is unafraid to ask for help for her
"I have nothing to lose in this game," she