Issaquah food bank hires new executive director

January 25, 2011

By Staff

Board selects former Bellingham parks employee for role

Cori Kauk, the new executive director at the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank, takes a moment for a smile on her first day of work Jan. 18 at the downtown facility. By Greg Farrar

Cori Kauk arrived to handshakes, hugs and flowers to start in the top job at the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank last week.

The former Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department recreation coordinator brings experience from pitching in at women’s shelters and counseling runaway teenagers — plus a master’s degree in executive nonprofit leadership — to the role.

Kauk settled into the executive director role at the downtown Issaquah food pantry Jan. 18.

“Really, my first step is to do a good job accessing what’s going on,” she said. “I know we have a strong volunteer base. I’ll see what’s working and what’s not working.”

In the months ahead, she faces a significant task to reach out to the community, and coordinate a small staff and more than 100 volunteers.

Kauk, 37, met city Human Services Coordinator Steve Gierke, a liaison between City Hall and human services organizations, applied for a grant and prepared to put out bids for income tax preparation in her initial days on the job.

Kauk plans to meet business and nonprofit organization leaders soon.

“I feel like it’s a huge privilege to have an opportunity to work for an organization that has such an awesome mission,” she said.

Kauk succeeds Executive Director Cherie Meier. The longtime food bank director left abruptly in August.

Leaders at the 29-year-old food pantry selected Kauk after a monthslong search. The food bank hired headhunter Greg Prothman last fall to conduct the regional search.

Prothman cut the recruiting fee by about $10,000, to $8,000 plus expenses. The food bank planned to use past donations and a sizable gift from a private donor to cover the costs.

The search firm received 54 applications for the job, and then narrowed the list to five candidates for interviews, longtime board member John Williams said.

Prothman also handled the search to hire Issaquah City Administrator Bob Harrison last fall.

Kauk is slated to earn in the $60,000 range per year, plus benefits, as executive director. The package is similar to the compensation package offered to Meier.

Long record of service

Leaders at the food bank enacted reforms last year after Seattle consultant Moss Adams issued a long list of recommendations for the food pantry to upgrade services.

The report suggested the executive director role be redefined. Consultants called for the manager to spend less time involved in collecting, shelving and managing donations and more time on fundraising, goal setting and community outreach.

Kauk said she read the Moss Adams report after the food bank board offered her the top job.

“I definitely got the impression that they were looking for somebody who could be in the public eye and build relationships and collaborations with all different types of people in our community, but also businesses, organizations, nonprofits,” she said.

The report also recommended better measures to refer clients to additional aid programs, manage volunteers and written procedures to outline accounting, human resources, volunteer coordination and other day-to-day tasks.

“I had a good idea of what the strengths and weaknesses of the organization were already,” Kauk said.

The executive director plans to collaborate to create a strategic plan for the food bank in the months ahead.

Williams said the board sought someone enthusiastic and organized, someone able to work well alongside food pantry staffers and volunteers.

Kauk “had the poise and knowledge we were looking for,” he said. “She does not have food bank experience, but she has nonprofit experience and city experience.”

Kauk grew up on the Kitsap Peninsula and majored in recreation at Western Washington University. After graduating in 1997, she worked in a battered women’s shelter, the Cocoon House for homeless youth and a YMCA in Cambridge, Mass.

Kauk started at the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department in 2000 as a recreation coordinator, planning community events and youth camps.

The annual Bellingham Kids’ Festival ranked among her favorite events. The festival allowed Kauk to entertain children with free food, performers, inflatable toys, face painting and clowns.

To pull off the event, she worked around the clock and collaborated with local businesses to produce a festival for about 5,000 people.

Kauk also founded and coordinated a Bellingham teenager volunteer program focused on service work and leadership for middle and high school students. Through the program, she accompanied students to the Bellingham Food Bank and animal refuge programs to teach them about community and to showcase positive youth involvement to the public.

‘Not reinventing the wheel’

Bellingham Food Bank Executive Director Mike Cohen praised Kauk for the energy she brings to each role.

“I think she possesses a good skill set for food banks, which is very positive and focused, getting as much food to people as effectively as possible and with a lot of dignity,” he said. “I think she’s just got really good intuition and ideas for her job.”

The municipal parks department laid off Kauk in September 2010 amid budget cuts.

“Even though I had been there 10 years, I was still one of the least-senior people,” she said.

So, Kauk decided to focus on her education and earned a master’s degree from Seattle University in executive nonprofit leadership.

“I was ready to find the perfect executive director position at a small nonprofit,” she said.

Prothman launched the regional search for the Issaquah director in October.

Kauk said Issaquah appealed to her because the city has a close-knit community and a proximity to the outdoors. In her free time, she heads outside for mountain biking, trail running, skiing and snowboarding.

“It will be fun to explore some other mountains besides Baker,” she said.

Kauk said she looks forward to the leadership and responsibility of the executive director position. Because the role requires her to get to know so many people — volunteers, clients, local business owners, and the local Kiwanis and Rotary clubs — she said community outreach is her early priority.

By canvassing Issaquah, Kauk said she hopes to learn how many people know about the food bank and, for people unaware of the pantry, she hopes to explain the mission and referral process.

“I feel like anybody can get behind a mission where you’re supporting a community and making sure everybody has food,” she said.

In addition, she said she also hopes to learn Spanish in order to communicate with more food pantry customers.

In the meantime, Kauk has reached out to contacts and mentors at the Bellingham Food Bank and Food Lifeline for ideas.

“I’m already tapping into best practices, not reinventing the wheel,” she said.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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