by June 26, 2013 at 9:00 am 0

From Joey Gavrilovich. Follow him on Twitter @joeygDC, email him at joey[AT]

"Patty Stonesifer"

Patty Stonesifer (Courtesy Stonesifer)

This is Part II of a conversation with Patty Stonesifer. Part I ran June 5.

In January, the board of Martha’s Table surprised the philanthropic world when they announced that Patty Stonesifer, the founding CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, would become its next president and CEO. Ms. Stonesifer also served as the Chair of the White House Council for Community Solutions, appointed in 2010 by President Obama. In 2012, she completed her term as the Chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents. This is part two of an exclusive Borderstan feature about Patty Stonesifer’s new role.

Now nearly three months in at Martha’s Table, Stonesifer shares that for her, the process of moving from the global foundation world to the local human service world meant recognizing the direct role the surrounding community must continue to play for her organization to succeed.

A big part of this is educating that community on what Martha’s Table does.

A New Way of Reaching People

“Most people think of us as the place that does hot meals in the parks, but that’s only a part of our food and nutrition programs. Most of the poor in the District are not in the parks in the evening, they’re in their homes, and so in addition to prepared meals, the distribution of quality produce and groceries becomes essential.”

The hot meals served in the parks through a volunteer-run mobile food kitchen called McKenna’s Wagon make up about a third of the 60,000 meals Martha’s Table serves a month. The rest are groceries, said Stonesifer. Those groceries have been distributed to families from the organization’s pantry at the 14 and V Streets NW headquarters.

Stonesifer’s vision for the organization involves reaching more families in need of groceries where they live, similar to how McKenna’s Wagon serves the homeless population near city parks.

“Those groceries make up 40,000 meals each month that I think could be 400,000 if we could find the right places and ways to distribute it,” said Stonesifer. Over the past two years, the organization has started distributing to families from four District schools as well as the 14 and V headquarters. Garrison Elementary at 13 and S Street NW is one, and the other three are spread across the District.

For Stonesifer and Martha’s Table, this approach creates a “virtual grocery store” in the schools, and is about more than just charity. “We think that poverty is more complex than that. In my view, this idea of meeting families right there in the schools when they are at the time of the month when they’re often short on groceries and short on cash is a way to meet the need, but also to bring nutrition education into the space, and for parents to learn more about their children’s nutritional experience.”

“I think that kind of program could expand quite dramatically if we’re able to get the resources here. It always comes back to getting new resources.”

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Securing resources for the organization’s success and expansion comes back to how effectively Martha’s Table connects with the community, and Stonesifer speaks of creating more collaborative efforts for the organization going forward like what is being seen now with DC Public Schools. Increasing collaboration and building upon the organization’s existing donor base to expand service comes back to what Patty Stonesifer herself brings to the Table.

“There is no question that the attention that I’ve gotten since taking this job is an asset not just for Martha’s Table, but for the importance of early childcare and education, for the importance of no child going hungry, and for the importance of meeting people’s basic needs,” Stonesifer says, sharing a few of the organization’s key focus areas.

“And I’m lucky that I can talk to the Secretary of Education about early childhood. So if I can be part raising the profile on it, that’s exciting to me.”

But what led Stonesifer to seek out and apply for the position at Martha’s Table was a kind of access she did not have in her previous positions. “I took the job because I wanted to move from theory to practice,” she explains, “that direct understanding of what it means to stand with this mother I sat next to at last night’s parent-teacher meeting, and of what she’s going to face when she gets home later still having to feed her other kids and then be ready for work in the morning. These aren’t trivial issues, and I intend to be a very vocal advocate.”

While her advocacy would undoubtedly reach an audience, that alone, says Stonesifer, will not be enough.

“These issues can’t be addressed by Martha’s Table and the next 10 organizations — they have to be addressed by the citizenry in total. We all have to decide that every working parent should be able to get and afford quality childcare. We have to decide that no child should be hungry. Because we know how to feed children, and we know how to care for children, but what is the political will, and the process, and the funding, and the delivery for breaking the cycle of poverty?

“It’s the people we serve who will have to create more change than anybody else. But they would like to know they have their neighbors and the public behind them, and that the resources they need are within their reach.”

Martha’s Table services more than 1,100 people a day in the District. Get more information.

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by June 5, 2013 at 9:00 am 1 Comment

From Joey Gavrilovich. Follow him on Twitter @joeygDC, email him at joey[AT]

"Patty Stone

Patty Stonesifer. (Courtesy Stonesifer)

In January, the board of Martha’s Table surprised the philanthropic world when they announced that they had hired Patty Stonesifer, formerly the founding CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as its next president and CEO.

Stonesifer was also previously appointed in 2010 by President Obama to serve as the Chair of the White House Council for Community Solutions, and in 2012, she completed her term as the Chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents.

Martha’s Table, at 14th and V Streets NW and with a second Martha’s Outfitter’s now in Anacostia, helps more than 1,100 people a day in the District. It does so by addressing community needs through food and clothing programs and it works to find sustainable solutions to poverty based in education and family support services. Two months into her work as president and CEO, Patty Stonesifer, sat down with Borderstan last week for an exclusive conversation.

The media have made hay of Stonesifer’s appointment in recent months, examining why she would choose to take such a job. Often cited is how novel and noble a move it is for such a financially successful individual, both technologically and professionally plugged-in, to be giving back to the local community and working families with her time and talent. As Maureen Dowd recently put it in her New York Times column profiling Stonesifer, she is a woman “rolling in millions and has no need to work ever again.”

But to hear Stonesifer talk about it, her decision had less to do with magnanimity and a lot more to do with self-actualization. “At different times of life, different kinds of ideas or issues engage us, and I’m just lucky enough to be able to go find the thing that engages me now.”

Finding and Doing Good Work

Stonesifer cites Harvard professor Howard Gardner’s GoodWork Project as a key lesson in finding one’s vocation. “It comes back to a simple concept that has been studied: What makes good work?” she said, sharing that she recently gave this advice at a commencement ceremony in New York. “These Harvard researchers identified good work as having three elements: it is ethical, excellent, and it is engaging. It’s work that you can lose yourself in, that you want to get into today and the next day and the next because there is something you are contributing.”

The allure of jobs with fancy titles and comfortable salaries can be “a slightly seductive thing,” says Stonesifer, if it causes one to lose sight of those three elements. In considering her next career move, some of the possibilities “really spoke to that girl from Indiana,” Stonesifer said with an amused smile. “The idea that that would be a cool job and my mother would be impressed! But then you think about it and ask, will I be fully engaged? Would it be excellent and ethical work? I had to really separate those things and decide what I wanted to do every day.”

For Stonesifer, as for many of us who rode into DC on career paths that led us away from our hometowns, doing good work matters, and Martha’s Table met her criteria. “The joy in what I’m doing now comes from the doing. I think those three elements just lined up beautifully for me with this job, and I suggest that that is the key to happy work for anybody.”

Motivated to Think Big

“I came from a family that was oriented toward service in the community. My folks worked long and hard at a food pantry in Indianapolis that’s now named after my father. I grew up not knowing that as volunteerism, not knowing that as service. I just thought that’s what you do.”

“I was lucky to be part of the tech boom,” Stonesifer reflected, saying that in her early years at Microsoft in the 1990s, she worked for Bill Gates and Melinda French (whom Bill Gates later married) worked for Stonesifer. “We were thinking very big and bold,” Stonesifer said of her collaboration with Bill and Melinda Gates at the dawn of a new time in technology. It was this approach that carried over into Microsoft’s philanthropic culture when the foundation was first launched in 1997.

“The exercise we went through there — to try to think about how would you change the world, how do you think big, how do you start from scratch on things like asking why tuberculosis is still with us in this way, effecting people at this level — affected me greatly. It broadened my sights from what my dad had instilled, from what do you do to make the world a better place to how big can you think about how the world can be better?”

In two weeks, Borderstan will feature part two of this exclusive feature, including Patty Stonesifer’s big thinking for Martha’s Table and human services in the District.

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by April 24, 2013 at 9:00 am 1 Comment

From Joey Gavrilovich. Follow him on Twitter @joeygDC, email him at joey[AT]

Patty Stonesifer President and CEO of Martha's Table. (Courtesy Martha's Table)

Patty Stonesifer, president and CEO of Martha’s Table. (Courtesy Martha’s Table)

On April 1 Patty Stonesifer began her work as president and CEO of Martha’s Table. Her appointment, announced in January, made headlines, as Ms. Stonesifer had previously served as Chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents, and for close to ten years prior was the founding CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest transparently operated private foundation in the world.

Situated on the west side of 14th Street NW between W and V Streets, Martha’s Table helps more than 1,100 District residents a day through food and clothing programs and works to find sustainable solutions to poverty based in education and family support services.

Borderstan will feature a full interview with Ms. Stonesifer in May. Below are two initial questions for the nonprofit’s new CEO.

Borderstan: 14th Street NW continues to be rebuilt and redeveloped at a dizzying pace. What effect do you see all this activity having on Martha’s Table’s role in the community?

Stonesifer: Martha’s Table is as committed today to building a stronger community and breaking the cycle of poverty as we were at our founding 33 years ago. While we hold tight to that core purpose we are also organic and have always changed our programs and services to meet the changing times and changing neighborhood. We’re grateful that the newcomers to this area — retailers, restaurants and new residents — have embraced Martha’s Table, and we continue to serve many families and residents of NW with the food, clothing and quality early childcare and afterschoool and summer education programs we all want for our children.

At the same time, we are also expanding to ensure we do as much as possible to fulfill our mission and meet people where they are. We are now offering a monthly grocery distribution at four schools spread across the District and we will soon be opening a great new thrift store in Anacostia and we plan to do even more! So expect us to stay anchored in this neighborhood while addressing broader community needs in new ways.

Borderstan: Having spent more than a decade in Seattle, you’ve certainly seen your share of good food and great coffee. How do the options here in the other Washington compare?

Stonesifer: There is no easy comparison between the two Washingtons. I am very fond of both. But you know the saying “wherever you go, there you are?” In both towns I have loved my work and my colleagues even more than I loved the local restaurants. For me the best cup of coffee and by far the best late morning muffin comes from Martha’s Table’s kitchen crew. April Parker, who is an amazing cook, often slips me a bit of the best bread pudding in the city or whatever else has just come out of the oven.

When I asked her yesterday how she convinced toddlers to eat that morning’s spinach quiche she told me that they love anything shaped like a muffin. I guess that describes me too! Soon our new greenhouse will be filled with fresh produce and I look forward to joining the children who are known to pull off a ripe tomato en route to the playground. So check back with me in a few years about the local cuisine — in the meantime I will continue to love the Martha’s Table fare!

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