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VISIONARY LEADER

Food Bank of Northern Nevada ranks top in the nation — and so does its CEO.

WRITTEN BY BARBARA TWITCHELL
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO 

Food bank visionary leader

Cherie Jamason is a bona fide dynamo. You can bank on it. The Food Bank of Northern Nevada certainly does.

Jamason has been the CEO and president of that organization for nearly 30 years. During that time, she has taken it from a small, grassroots food pantry for Washoe County to the primary food bank supplier for 140 partner agencies, covering all of Northern Nevada, plus eight California counties. That’s more than 90,000 square miles — much of it a food desert, meaning an area with limited access to fresh foods.

Under her leadership, the local food bank has come to be recognized as one of the premier food banks in the country, earning national awards, including being named Food Bank of the Year in 2014 by Feeding America, the national network of food banks.

Driving force

Jamason has been the driving force behind the food bank’s many pioneering programs, earning herself a well-deserved reputation, within the national food bank community and beyond, as a progressive innovator.

“I think the coolest thing is that we get to reinvent ourselves all the time,” Jamason says. “We’re always looking around the corner to see what needs to be done, and that changes our jobs. So I’ve never been bored and neither has anyone else here.”

Jamason admits she asks a lot of her staff and gets some good-natured ribbing in return.

“We’re always on the front edge, or as people here like to say, ‘the bleeding edge,’ of innovation,” Jamason says with a laugh. “I’m always coming in and saying, ‘I think we should do this or that.’ They may shake their heads and roll their eyes, but we put our heads together and get it done.”

Persistent efforts

Their persistent efforts have essentially redefined the image of the food bank. Where once the idea of a food bank conjured up visions of dented cans and government surplus items, the local food bank now proudly offers healthy food options, much of it fresh, and is changing that image.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve gone from probably 5 percent to about 50 percent of what we distribute being fresh produce — 6 million pounds of it last year,” Jamason says. “On top of that, we also are distributing about a half million pounds of dairy, meat, and other perishables.”

With so many accomplishments to her credit, it’s no wonder that, in 2014, the food bank’s visionary leader was honored with the prestigious unite4:humanity Inspiration Award by the nonprofit organizationunite4:good.

Jamason credits the food bank’s success to a great staff, amazing volunteers, and creative partnerships with businesses, other agencies, and the community. She is quick to say it’s a team effort. But others candidly concede that much of the credit belongs to this determined, passionate, inspirational leader who does not know the meaning of can’t.

In fact, Jamason’s favorite saying is, “The answer to ‘How?’ is ‘YES! You make it happen.’”

She certainly does.

Reno writer Barbara Twitchell admits she spent more time at the food bank than required for this story, but it’s such an amazing place. If she ever grows up (which some say is doubtful), she wants to be just like Cherie Jamason.

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