After 15 years leading Good Cheer Food Bank &Thrift Stores, Kathy McCabe is retiring. The longtime executive director announced last week that she will step down this summer to spend more time with her family.
And after so long at the helm, McCabe says she’s ready.
“It is the right decision,” McCabe said. “I’ve really had to think about it because I absolutely love my job and what I do.”
McCabe took the reins in 2002, and in that time she’s helped facilitate the creation of Good Cheer’s food bank and garden in Bayview and a new thrift store in Clinton, while also helping boost revenue. She also pioneered a food points shopping system for food-insecure families in the community that has been adopted by other food banks across the nation. The system allocates a set amount of points based on the number of persons in a household and provides their clients with the dignity of selecting the foods they want.
McCabe has also weathered a recession, a brain surgery in 2015 and the stress of trying to ensure everyone involved in Good Cheer, from the volunteers to the clients, were treated fairly and respectfully.
“There’s a lot of demand on my time and this will free up and eliminate the biggest stress,” McCabe said.
Her last day is July 10.
Shawn Nowlin, community outreach coordinator for Good Cheer, said the board of directors was just recently informed of McCabe’s planned departure and the selection of her replacement has not been discussed. Nowlin said she McCabe will be missed, and that her effort in making Good Cheer into the enterprise it is today, while also attending to people’s dignities, will not be forgotten.
“She’s a risk taker that is willing to have a few failures to make a really successful non-profit,” Nowlin said.
McCabe joined Good Cheer’s staff as a manager of the Langley thrift store with retail and business experience, having owned Ace Hardware in Freeland. Instead of commanding authority and implementing new changes as manager, McCabe opted to take a backseat and learn what she could from Good Cheer’s staff.
At that time, the thrift store in Langley also housed a food bank. McCabe said that from her first day, she was bothered that there was no anonymity between food bank clients and thrift store shoppers. Clients would receive a box full of food, but would have to obtain it in public view.
“I knew there were people in our community, especially older people, that would rather starve to death than do that,” McCabe said. “I knew that we had to move the food bank out of that place.”
A $10,000 marketing plan proposed by McCabe in her first few years on the job also paid dividends. It not only increased awareness that Good Cheer was also a food bank, but garnered support from the community in donations. McCabe said that since she began working for Good Cheer, monetary donations have increased from $40,000 to $300,000 per year. Retail sales have also grown from $300,000 to $936,000, though McCabe made it clear that she was not alone in the effort by adding that “it took many hands to get us where we are today.”
Kay Stanley, who was president of the board of directors at the time, said McCabe’s plan was a big financial jump from what Good Cheer was accustomed to. It was McCabe’s foresight that made the difference though.
“She was a forward thinker,” Stanley said. “We’ve evolved into this beautiful place… thanks to her.”
In November 2015, McCabe underwent brain surgery after hitting her head on the pavement while walking her dog. McCabe said her recovery has gone smoothly, but that it also provided perspective on the value of life. McCabe said she may not have considered retiring at this time had it not been for that life-altering experience.
Rita Tulloch, manager of Good Cheer’s thrift store in Clinton, sees McCabe as both inspiration for women and a personal role model in her life. Tulloch’s first impression of McCabe was that she was a “strong lady” with leadership skills and someone who she wanted to follow and emulate. Her perception of McCabe hasn’t changed.
“She’s a wonderful person,” Tulloch said. “She’s going to be missed here as the leadership here at Good Cheer.”
McCabe said she’s been fortunate to have a board of directors who shared a similar vision and a staff that has been dedicated to carrying their ambitions through. She’s also said she’s proud to have taken part in a job that helps ensure people are fed and nourished.
Finally, she hopes whoever takes over her position will continue to support family support principles, where everyone from the clients to the staff are responsible and should feel proud about the success of the non-profit organization.
“It’s a good time to walk away,” McCabe said.