Social Impact Heroes: How Jennifer Gilmore of Kitchens for Good is helping to rescue food that would be thrown out to help thousands of vulnerable people

Yitzi Weiner
Mar 16 · 6 min read
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As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Gilmore CEO, Kitchens for Good.

As Kitchens for Good’s CEO, Jennifer Gilmore brings her knowledge and experience establishing start-up nonprofits to the organization. Under her leadership, Kitchen for Good has been recognized as an award-winning social enterprise, an innovative solution to hunger and poverty, and has expanded into three kitchens.

Before joining Kitchens for Good, Jennifer spent more than two decades in food banking. In 2007, she was recruited to oversee the establishment and strategic growth of Feeding San Diego. During her tenure there as Executive Director, the organization moved from a parking lot into a 40,000 square foot distribution center, was recognized as a fresh solution to hunger, and increased food distribution and philanthropic income more than 600%.

Jennifer is a member of the San Diego Hunger Coalition’s Advisory Board, and has been the recipient of several awards including the Tribute to Women in Industry Visionary Award for her contribution to hunger relief in San Diego County.

Jennifer holds an MPA from the Eller School of Business at the University of Arizona.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I moved to San Diego I was offered two jobs. The first was working in the development department of a major university. The other was serving as a volunteer coordinator for the local food bank. One paid significantly more than the other, and I was torn. When I asked my dad for his advice he said, “follow your heart.” Two weeks later I was assembling food boxes with 40 Boy Scouts. Several times since then, I’ve crumpled my pros and cons list and paused to listen to my heart. This has helped me be less fearful of making the wrong decision and more open to doing what is simply right for me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The majority of food banking is logistics. You’re sourcing, storing, packaging and distributing food in a large warehouse. At Kitchens for Good, you have the opportunity to get work alongside the apprentices, hear their stories and struggles, and celebrate their successes. Watching them gain confidence and replace labels like felon, addict, and homeless with titles like cook, confident, and employed is impactful and the main driver that inspired Kitchens for Good to implement an apprentice centric structure. Everything we do is to better prepare the individuals we serve to better get and keep a job.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When starting Feeding San Diego, I had two children under the age of two, no childcare, and worked out of the home. I would leave my stroller on the curb after site visits, take calls in the garage, have baby puke on my shoulder during meetings…I considered flossing my teeth as having me time. The mistake I made was thinking I had it rough. I didn’t. I had the luxury of toting my children around with me, working from the home, and taking my time finding childcare. Not everyone does. We need to continue to advocate for access to childcare and decreasing the barriers that prevent employment.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

  • Since 2015, Kitchens for Good has helped 264 individuals that have overcome histories of incarceration, homelessness, and foster care to land jobs in the culinary and hospitality industries.
  • To date Kitchens for Good has rescued 161,737lbs of food, and distributed 303,563 nutritious meals for hungry San Diegans.
  • Last year, Kitchens for Good enrolled 112students in its apprenticeship program — 86% of whom maintained jobs in the culinary industry.
  • 80% of employed Kitchen for Good graduates received a raise or promotion within 18 months.
  • Kitchens for Good rescued more than 50,000 pounds of surplus and cosmetically imperfect food last fiscal year using cosmetically imperfect produce, students, chefs, and volunteers prepared nearly 124, 000 meals for approximately 4,200 children, seniors, and families in San Diego County.
  • Kitchens for Good employed 112 students, providing them with more than 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and $108,000 in wages collectively.
  • Notably, the social enterprise kitchen generates more than 50% of Kitchens for Good’s operating budget.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

Christian came to KFG at age 24, a former foster youth, having spent the last decade of his life in a revolving cycle of prisons and gang life. Upon his final release from prison, he decided that he wanted to turn things around, but didn’t know-how. With no education, no formal work experience, and no family support system, Christian feared that gangs and prison were his destiny. However, there was one thing that Christian was sure of — that he loved to cook. He decided to take a chance and enrolled in Project Launch. By learning lessons in cooking, interviewing, and workforce expectations, Christian got hired at a 4-star restaurant in La Jolla upon graduation. Since working in the industry for the last three years Christian has received multiple raises promotions. With this newfound employment, Christian was able to save up enough money to move out of the sober living home and rent his own apartment and buy a car to drive to and from work. Now, with a stable job and positive prospects, Christian has taken the initiative to enroll in community college to get his degree in business administration with the goal of one day opening his own restaurant.

“Kitchens for Good is the actual definition of a second chance. It looked past the tattoos and the background and looks at the person I am inside. They helped me rewrite my future.” — Christian

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Modernize the way we measure poverty.
  2. Increase the minimum wage to a living wage and support pay equity.
  3. Support re-entry programs and help individuals transition back into their communities successfully.
  4. Increase access to healthcare and childcare.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

We often overcomplicate leadership. Families are complex, raising children is complex, being in a relationship is complex…Organizations are relatively simple and require only a limited number of critical performances, occurring at optimal rates, to be successful. Be kind, say thank you, ensure the basic elements of management are solidly in place, and you’re well on your way.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

When offered my first management position I hit the books on leadership, time management, motivating teams… My mentor told me I was engaging in “book of the month management” and advised me to set the books aside. He encouraged me to focus on becoming an expert in managing the basic organizational elements — developing vision, goals, strategy, structure, processes, increasing employees’ skill sets, communicating standards and expectations, measuring success, providing frequent feedback on outcomes, and reinforcing and/or correcting performance. That advice has served me well during my career.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Poet Mary Oliver: ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’

It finds beauty, hope, importance, and purpose in every one of us.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow Kitchens for Good at @KitchensforGood on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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