For Rachel N. Albert, the roots of social consciousness run deep. When she was about 5, she accompanied her mom who has distributing pamphlets about the environmental impact of nuclear energy.
"My parents were early advocates of organic farming and were sounding the alarm about pesticides long before the damage they cause became common knowledge," she remembers. "I grew up in a socially conscious family where we routinely discussed issues of race and socioeconomic equity at the dinner table. From a very young age I was aware that the way society is structured deals many people an unfair hand."
Recently elevated to executive director of Food Link, Albert finds in the past a harvest of meaning that helps makes sense of the present.
Among our many-faceted residents
"I also knew that I was comparatively lucky. I always had enough to eat, a comfortable home and a good education.
"My dad is a doctor, so I was attuned as well to how much suffering there is out there. I always wanted to do what I could to alleviate human suffering, especially when it stems from the unfair distribution of basic resources."
Striving for justice in an unfair world informs the ever-expanding food-rescue nonprofit.
"The organization’s growth over the past nine years really has been remarkable," she says, referring to co-founders DeAnne Dupont and Julie Kremer. "I think it’s a testament to [their] determination and strength of vision ... that they were able to get so much community support right from the start. Every year the support kept increasing -- and then it exploded during the pandemic, when food insecurity soared."
From the pair seeing food needlessly discarded at one small area cafe in 2012, the founders launched a rescue effort whose numbers are staggering -- more than 250 volunteers working with more than 100 food donors collecting 1.2 million pounds of food serving 80,000 people ion 2020 -- all from a 7,000-square-foot hub at 108 Summer St., which opened last February.
In the light of that exponential growth, Albert outlined her aims for Food Link.
Now that Food Link has transitioned from a grassroots, volunteer-led start-up to a nonprofit with its own custom-renovated building, nine paid staff and 11 board members, it has two broad organizational goals, she says. The first is to develop a fully sustainable funding model at our larger size.
With an annual budget of $1.2 million, the nonprofit is rescuing more than 4,000 pounds of food a day and delivering it to agencies throughout 50 communities in eastern Massachusetts.
"Food Link is fortunate to have a robust network of food donors and a broad base of government, foundation and individual funders," she notes. "We need to determine which of these sources we can rely on to be renewable year over year and how to balance them for long-term financial health."
That leads to a second goal: to deepen its impact. "In the new year, we will be launching a strategic-planning process to learn more about the biggest unmet needs in the communities we serve, and which of these Food Link is best positioned to address," she says. "We will tackle core strategic questions."
Those include whether to expand into new locations and which types of new partnerships or food donors Food Link may want to experiment with. For example, whether those involved work with cafés but not restaurants. And whether to add entirely different types of impact to our portfolio, such as education, policy work or other systems-level change.
Asked how she plans to reach these broad hopes, she responded that the strategic-planning process "will bring into sharper focus the types of impact -- beyond increasing our volume of food rescue -- that we will strive to achieve over the next three to five years. How we attain those goals will of course depend on what they are. I’m looking forward to an inclusive engagement in which we solicit input from a wide range of stakeholders to bring a fresh perspective to the role we can play within the greater Boston food-justice ecosystem."
Asked how the public aspects of her background support reaching her wider goals, she pointed to her professional background in nonprofit leadership and strategic planning. "I happen to be a good fit for where Food Link is at right now in its growth trajectory," she says. With masters degrees in business and social work from Columbia University, she was a strategic-planning consultant with The Bridgespan Group.
Since then, she has alternated between in-house roles at nonprofit organizations -- including vice president of evaluation and learning at Jewish Family & Children’s Service and chief financial and administrative officer at Birches School, in Lincoln -- and freelance consulting, working with a variety of educational and human-service nonprofits.
"I have a special interest in nonprofits that have just matured past their initial start-up phase," she says. "It’s a time when there is still so much energy and excitement, but there is also a core team in place with defined roles and responsibilities and an organizational culture that has coalesced without becoming stale. It’s a time of tremendous possibility in terms of how we serve our mission, and also rapid professional growth for the staff involved."
Music, studying abroad
Apart from her nonprofit side, others aspects emerge. Albert has bachelor degrees in psychology from the University of Rochester and in vocal performance from the Eastman School of Music.
Is she still involved in music? "I occasionally take part in chamber music ensembles, but that all stopped during Covid."
She grew up for the most part in Newton, and she also spent a fair bit of time abroad as a child. She lived a year in France, where she attended first grade, and sixth grade in Israel. She also spent a year abroad between high school and college, studying voice in Italy and working on a kibbutz in Israel.
Albert lives with her husband, a mathematician, and their 11-year-old son, Gabriel, a sixth-grader.
She was named interim executive director in April, replacing Dupont. Board Chair Nora Mann wrote: "After a successful 7-plus months on the job, the board unanimously appointed Rachel to the permanent position effective Dec. 1. The board continues to be grateful to and recognize the creativity, hard work and commitment of its two founders."
Oct. 4, 2017: EPA recognizes Food Link founders' environmental mission
March 1, 2021: Summer St. Hub: Inside Food Link's new home
This news feature was published Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021.
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