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Kathleen Stress is Food Bank of CNY’s next executive director

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The root of Kathleen Stress’s 25-year nonprofit career is helping ensure children receive a healthy snack or meal at a child care center.

Today, that experience has led her to be named the Food Bank of Central New York’s executive director, ensuring children and their families receive supplemental nutritional meals. She will replace Thomas F. Slater, who will retire from the post July 5 after 18 years.

“Little did I know those kids would lead me to the Food Bank,” she said. “I was leading the Salvation Army Syracuse Area Services child care centers’ strategic plan, and that’s when the Food Bank recruited me. It wasn’t until then I could make a larger impact.”

Her career with the Food Bank began in 2007, when she was named the internal communications director. She has held the agency’s chief operating officer position since 2008, and has been responsible for seeing to the nonprofit’s day-to-day operations. She received a master’s degree in public administration with a nonprofit focus from Syracuse University in 2008.

The Food Bank, 7066 Interstate Island Road, Syracuse, has a 74,000-square-foot warehouse that distributes about 12 million pounds of food each year to Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties.

“What I’ve learned is hunger is a local issue, not just in the Third World,” Mrs. Stress said. “The shift, even in the last five years, relied so much on donations, but now we’ve focused on purchasing commodities. We’ve been able to control more of what we’ve brought in. With donations having changed, we have an emphasis on a grocery rescue program, where we focus on frozen protein items.”

Instead of hot dogs and ground chuck, the Food Bank is able to offer frozen butcher cuts of meat to food pantries, donated from area supermarkets.

As Mrs. Stress prepares to lead the agency, she also must look ahead to how her role will change. She said she already has a close eye on the farm bill, and if billions of dollars in cuts to the food stamp program are approved, she fears the government may shift money from the commodity lines to offset other costs.

The agency also is working through its next hunger study, which is done every five years. Food pantry surveys are being done now, and data will be collected and compiled into a report by year’s end. Mrs. Stress said that research will help with funding and advocacy efforts.

“We’ve always been humble, but we need to share a little more about what we do,” she said.

For instance, the Food Bank not only supports local food pantries by delivering food; it also will provide workshops and classes about food safety, nutrition education, “Just say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables” and Food Sense, which offers $25 to $30 worth of food for about $15.

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