Meet a Food Banker: Pattijean McCahill

A woman and child smile while holding sparkling juice at a food distribution

Pattijean is up next for the Meet a Food Banker series! Read more about her and her role at the food bank below!

What do you do at the food bank?

I’m the Development and Marketing Director. I manage a diverse team of nine people, specifically around donor operations, donor engagement, storytelling, communications and grant writing. We work to raise over 5 million dollars to support the operation of the food bank. The development and marketing team is comprised of two front-line fundraisers who cultivate major donors and corporations; two people dedicated to managing our database of 35,000 donors, processing over 10,000 gifts annually and fielding donor inquiries; two people writing grants and managing foundation relationships; and finally, three people handling internal and external communications, brand stewardship, managing our direct mail program and connecting with donors and the public through social media. So, I spend a lot of time supporting the people who make our department succeed! I also spearheaded our Nourish Tomorrow Advancement Campaign to support the renovation of our new warehouse. Finally, I’m responsible for setting our annual strategic plan as well as managing a portfolio of 60 major donors.

How did you end up in this role?

I have my MBA from Northwestern University, and for years after I got my degree I worked in corporate marketing, strategy and new product development. I worked at big companies like Sara Lee, Amway, Whirlpool and Kellogg’s. In 2007 my position at Kellogg’s was eliminated and I lost my job. I used that opportunity to reevaluate my life and what I was doing professionally. I did some assessments that said I should be a social worker or have a job that helps people. That led me to decide I really wanted to get into the nonprofit sector, but I couldn’t get a job because I had no experience. So, I went to Grand Valley State University and got my Master’s degree in Public Administration. I focused on my passion point, which was childhood obesity, and learned that you can’t address childhood obesity without understanding food access and the food environment, so then I really got into food justice. This job came up after I got that degree and it was a perfect fit. I’ve been here nearly eight years now. When I started, we lacked structure. But then we created new positions, and have grown from a team of three to a team of nine over the past eight years.

What’s your favorite part about your job?

Managing a team and getting to know people throughout the organization. I’m an extrovert so it’s easy for me to talk to people. I’m always humbled to hear why people choose to work here, and it’s because they believe in the mission of the organization. I also love connecting donors to our mission.

Any standout memories?

Early on, we hosted a donor appreciation event with a National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore. He had done a book for the Feeding America national organization called Hunger in America. Joel had gone all over the country photographing and connecting with people experiencing food insecurity. He shared his experiences and story of hunger in America with over 100 donors. They each received a copy of his book, courtesy of the national organization. We also used his photography for an ArtPrize installation.

Another highlight for me is taking donors to Mobile Food Pantries. Over the years, I’ve probably done that about 15 times. It’s so helpful for connecting donors to the mission. And when donors volunteer at a Mobile Pantry they become more cognizant of how their dollars support our mission.

What motivates you to fight hunger?

My son and I were food insecure for a year and a half in 2007-2008. I had incredible family support but we definitely used food assistance services for a short period. I have a lot of empathy for the neighbors we serve and I want to help provide them with better access to healthy food. Even though sometimes it’s a struggle to ask people for money, I know that money is going directly to improving food access, and that’s what motives me.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Connect with my family. I have nine brothers and sisters and 60 nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews. I talk to each sibling once a week, if not every other week. And we do family vacations. Family is number one for sure. And then I love to read. I also ride a bike and am passionate pickle ball player.