Hungry to Help
Hungry to HelpSeptember 27, 2021
“I wanted to work for greater equity and justice in the world.” That was Katie Fitzgerald’s mindset when she received her social relations degree from James Madison College in 1994. Since then, she has made a career out of doing just that.
After graduation, Fitzgerald joined AmeriCorps. That year of service and time spent in the community-led her to a master’s degree in social work, instead of law school as she had initially planned.
“I felt the need to be part of it. I knew the solutions to a community’s problems often come from within the community,” she says. “I still believe that to this day.”
And she would know. As executive vice president and chief operating officer at Feeding America, Fitzgerald is helping solve problems and fight hunger together with 200 food banks across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. It is a deep and diverse system, where a typical day means overseeing supply chains, managing relationships across the network and with other partners, cultivating ties with food banks and diving into federal policy. All while keeping her team’s morale high.
“It is so varied and incredibly intellectually satisfying,” Fitzgerald says of her work. “And everyone has such a deep commitment to what we’re working on.”
That proved especially important over the past year and a half, as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on financial security and food security nationwide. Between stark spikes in demand, supply chain issues and lack of personal protective equipment, Feeding America had to get creative. Hunger relief efforts inherently involve human interaction and contact, so the organization needed to find new ways to get food in the hands of people in need.
“I wanted to work for greater equity and justice in the world. I felt the need to be part of it. I knew the solutions to a community’s problems often come from within the community. I still believe that to this day.”
“Sorting, packaging, distribution, referral services all had to be changed on a dime.” Fitzgerald recalls. Despite the stresses, Feeding America made it happen. “I couldn’t be prouder of the network—the resiliency, adaptability and creativity were unbelievably nimble. We’ve been able to grow and meet the need in incredible ways.”
Incredible, indeed. Between June 2020 and July of this year, the Feeding America Network of Food Banks distributed 6.8 billion meals to people facing hunger. That is a 60% increase compared to the 4.3 billion meals distributed in fiscal year 2019 before the pandemic began.
Fitzgerald can look back on a career of fulfilling achievements. The best part is, they are achievements that are shared with the community at large. In one of her previous positions as executive director at the Center for Children and Families in Norman, Oklahoma, Fitzgerald and her team rallied the community to turn a small, fledgling after-school program for vulnerable children into the first Boys & Girls Club in the state’s third-largest city. Fitzgerald calls it one of the highlights of her career.
Rest assured, she is not done yet. And neither are the rest of her family. Her son is due on campus this fall as a first-year student in James Madison College. “He made the decision himself,” says the mother of three. So, what will she tell her son as he sets off on his Spartan journey?
“Pursue something that makes you feel like a vital person in the world.” Sage advice that everyone should follow. After all, it worked pretty well for her.
Learn more at: feedingamerica.org
Contributing Writer(s): Tim Cerullo, '08