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Bridget Clark Whitney


Sack Suppers

2055 Oak Industrial Drive
Ste. C
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49505
Since childhood, Bridget Clark Whitney, executive director of Kids’ Food Basket in Grand Rapids, has known that serving underprivileged people was her calling. She has devoted her entire career to ending childhood hunger, helping to make sure that thousands of children in greater Grand Rapids and Muskegon do not go to bed hungry.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Kids' Food Basket Executive Director Bridget Clark Whitney: It means that I am personally called to work for others and to work on society’s most pressing problems. Childhood hunger is certainly one of them. Leadership takes building a strong trust among the community, the schools, employees, donors, volunteers and peers.
Leadership means applying creativity and flexibility while being firmly grounded in organizational values and goals. I am a strong believer in ‘creativity before capital’ and that has resulted in a sustainable, strong and healthy organization that makes an impact every day on the 4,900 children we serve.
We have also become an organization that responds to critical needs in other areas of West Michigan by establishing a satellite location in Muskegon Heights, which is the poorest school district in the state. We are working to become national in scope by providing our model and tool kit to organizations that want to abolish childhood hunger in their own communities.
We do more than provide children with Sack Suppers. We are in the brain development business.

This journey has been a humbling experience and I realize that it’s far from over, because one person cannot do it alone. Achieving this level of success only happens as the result of the hard work of many dedicated and brilliant individuals. However, it does take one person to realize her own strengths and weaknesses and have the tenacity to facilitate the collective power of many people.
I believe that’s what leadership is all about. It’s not what you do. It’s how you gather and empower people to find effective solutions to society’s most pressing problems. I seek out and cherish the talent, skills and the abilities of the people around me. Being a good leader isn’t about me. It’s about the people I surround myself with, because truly,
we’re all better together.
What is your dream for kids?
My mission and dream is to eradicate children’s hunger. I will never give up -- it’s as much a part of me as breathing.
Kids’ pathways in life should not be determined by the situation into which they were born. Teachers tell me the saddest things: about children who cry when they get out early for a snow day because that means that they won’t get lunch. They have seen children search for scraps of food in their schools’ garbage or take condiment packets home for supper.
I have made it my commitment to ensure that every child has proper nourishment, because every child has the right to food. Kids’ Food Basket’s work is based on research showing that proper nutrition is vital for the brain to grow properly. If kids do not receive enough calories, their brains won’t fully develop.
Childhood hunger is a social justice issue and we are truly a catalyst of systemic change. We are changing the futures of the kids that we are serving, ensuring proper nutrition for proper brain development. We do more than provide children with Sack Suppers. We are in the brain development business.
With the continued support of our donors, volunteers, the community … we will see the day where the State of Michigan will offer a government-sponsored program so that all our children will be food-secure with properly developing brains.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I feel that one concrete thing that can be done to improve the environment for social sector work is the implementation of lean processes and principles in our daily work. Lean processes are being used in manufacturing plants all over the world and we have found that the same principles can be used to great effect in the nonprofit sector.
We are always focusing on improvement. We ask ourselves, “How can we do this better?” and “How can we best serve
After learning of the devastating effects of childhood hunger and the vast hidden problem that it is in our country, I knew that we had the opportunity and the responsibility to achieve significant growth.
I am extremely passionate about being good stewards of our resources -- our money, our time, our people -- and lean processes allow us to do more with less. We learn how to work smarter at a time when financial resources are stretched. It is tremendously important for us to provide for undernourished children to the best of our ability while respecting every volunteer hour and every dollar that is gifted to Kids’ Food Basket.
How do you know you’re making progress?
In just over ten years, Kids’ Food Basket has increased the number of Sack Suppers served to food-insecure children from 125 to over 4,900 in greater Grand Rapids. Our budget has soared from $20,000 to $3.8 million. In April, we started a satellite location in Muskegon County where we are currently serving 500 children each weekday during the school year.
We can turn on our television sets and immediately see hunger in children in a third world country who are quite obviously malnourished. Here in the states, child hunger isn’t as visible, although it still exists.
In Grand Rapids, childhood hunger is a hidden problem; one that we are attacking each day. We have significant qualitative and quantitative data that proves that our meals are significantly improving the lives of the children we serve. In just one decade, we’ve created awareness around childhood hunger and Kids’ Food Basket. Because the problem is largely something that is hidden, this knowledge and awareness is critical to our mission.
One telling sign that we are making progress is the increase in our volunteers. During the school year, they work from 8:00 am to 8:30 pm. These volunteers range in age from five to 95 and they are here, specifically, because they want to spend time to make sure that kids in our community don’t go to bed hungry.
That’s something I can wrap around myself and feel good.
What are you most proud of?
This is the only job I’ve had since college.
I’ve had to figure things out along this path, with the help and the collective wisdom of mentors and role models in the Grand Rapids community. I observed their leadership skills and was willing to seek guidance. That, ultimately, has helped me become a stronger leader, and I’m proud of it.
From intern to executive director, I have had to learn and become extremely competent in leadership, strategic planning, managing budgets, program development, human resources, and fundraising… I have come from leading a staff of one to creating jobs for a staff of thirteen, leading over 12,000 volunteers, dozens of interns, hundreds of committee members and an extremely dedicated board of directors.
I’m proud that I have stretched myself each and every day to become the executive director and businessperson that my organization deserves -- both a champion of our cause and a leader that is more participative than directive and more enabling than performing.
I am also very proud that I have a healthy family life. I have a tremendous, supportive husband and a beautiful four-month old daughter. Love is a great motivator. We deliver more than food. We deliver love, we deliver consistency, and we deliver nourishment for the mind, the body and the soul.
What originally drew you to your current role as the Executive Director of Kids’ Food Basket? What rewards do you draw from your work?
When I was 12 years old, I asked my mother a question that left an indelible impression on my life’s journey. “What is the purpose in life?” My mom told me, “We’re here to serve each other.” That conversation left an imprint in the direction I took as an adult.
When I was a senior at Aquinas College, I was presented the opportunity for a yearlong internship where I would help manage and develop the anti-hunger initiative Kids’ Food Basket. After learning of the devastating effects of childhood hunger and the vast hidden problem that it is in our country, I knew that we had the opportunity and the responsibility to achieve significant growth. In fact, it would have been irresponsible not to.
Not too long ago, a little boy followed one of the Sack Suppers drivers outside the school building. He looked at the driver and asked, “Are you the one who packed my food?” The driver said, yes, that he was one of many. That little boy stepped forward, hugged the driver and told him, “Thanks. I always wondered what you looked like.”
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Program Profile


  • Kids' Food Basket
    To provide low-income children with nutritious meals, educational enrichment and life skills as a means to a pathway out of poverty and a productive adulthood.


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