Catherine D'Amato: Origins and Inspirations – One Woman's Journey Fighting Hunger

Catherine D'Amato: Origins and Inspirations – One Woman's Journey Fighting Hunger

Jessica McWade
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-2490-2.ch040
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This chapter inspires readers with the story of one woman's lifelong commitment to fight hunger and to lead teams able to imagine actually ending hunger one day. At an early age, Catherine D'Amato found inspiration in her father's belief system, translating his generosity and sense of civic purpose into a vision that has helped feed hundreds of thousands of hungry and needy people. She came to understand the essential roles of advocacy, education, and storytelling in the practice of leadership, especially since so many people do not realize how deep the “silent epidemic” of hunger pervades our communities. In turn, she continues to inspire subsequent generations of leaders equally committed to eradicating the scourge of hunger.
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It made a lifetime impression on the young Catherine D’Amato: She would watch her father greet hungry folks knocking on the back door of their family restaurant in Redding, California, asking for food. Actually, they offered to work in exchange for food. Catherine’s father just fed them, however, right there and then: no quid pro quo, just simple human decency. “It was part of his belief system,” Catherine says. This is from a daughter and singer-songwriter who once wrote a tune about her father, called “Bread Man,” honoring the years he spent driving a bread truck.

Catherine has served as president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank since 1995. She and her team have built the Food Bank into a nearly $200 million organization that distributed 115 million pounds of nutritious food last year to people who desperately need it. Food insecurity ravages our society, especially since the pandemic. Food insecurity is defined as the “lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life” (Feeding America, 2022, website), and experts predicted that 50 million people including 17 million children will have experienced food insecurity in 2020 in the United States (Feeding America, 2020, Table 1.0). Catherine has written that Massachusetts, among the wealthiest and best-educated states, is waging a major battle on the front lines of hunger. “The rate of food insecurity in Massachusetts has increased 59% since 2018, the highest increase in the nation” (D’Amato, 2020).

“You can’t teach a hungry child,” Catherine says, underscoring the national educational tragedy posed by widespread food insecurity and reflecting on a sad truth she has repeatedly witnessed over many years (McWade, 2021). Elementary school principal Clint Mitchell said in a 2017 report from the No Kid Hungry campaign, “When a child comes to school hungry, you see a few things: you see children who are crying, kids who are lashing out. You see kids who have no interest in schoolwork” (No Kid Hungry, 2017, p. 1). No Kid Hungry reported at the time that 92% of elementary school teachers were concerned about how hunger affects their students’ ability to learn (No Kid Hungry, 2017).

“Food is health,” Catherine adds, and without enough nutritious calories, children simply cannot learn or at least learn well. Absent the benefits of a decent education, their lifelong employment and health prospects plummet, and individual and community costs—especially the opportunity costs of what might have been—soar. “We can end hunger, but it’s a political problem,” Catherine says. “It’s solvable” with the right political will. “There’s sufficient food to go around. It’s always been a matter of the economics and politics of distribution,” she says. In considering why some political leaders do not accept the obvious benefits of investing in hunger relief now to reduce the geometrically higher future costs of not doing so, Catherine says, “There’s an entrenchment of belief systems that I just don’t deem to be logical.” Such unnecessary obstacles are enormously frustrating, of course, but have only strengthened her resolve to sustain and even heighten her commitment (McWade, 2021).

Hunger affects women in greater numbers than men. For example, “households with children with a single mother had a food insecurity rate of 28.7% in 2019, while only 15.4% of single fathers dealt with food insecurity” (Move for Hunger, 2021, website). Not surprisingly, women also comprise the majority of those who work in food banking and other non-profit domains. Equally unsurprising, however, GuideStar reported in 2015 that only 18% of non-profit organizations were led by women (Guerrero, 2020). “We’re running a large business here, and yet sometimes people can be dismissive of non-profit work. The treatment sometimes feels patronizing, especially as a woman,” Catherine says (McWade, 2021).

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