Valerie Nicholson Watson: Beacon of the Community

Valerie Nicholson Watson discusses her new role as Harvesters Kansas City CEO.

On July 1, Valerie Nicholson Watson became the fourth president and CEO of Kansas City-based food bank Harvesters after serving as a board member for six years and director of community services. One of 200+ food banks across the country associated with Feeding America, the organization serves 26 counties in Missouri and northeast Kansas.

KCM:Why did you want your current position?

Watson: Hunger relief is certainly a very worthy cause, and I wholeheartedly support the mission of Harvesters. I have [also] been able to meet a personal need through the work that I have always done since I started working. I come from a very close-knit family and community where we look out for and after each other.

KCM:How do you see your role with Harvesters?

Watson: I am responsible for defining and sharing the vision of our organization, plotting the course and shaping the culture. [We’re also] making sure this organization is relevant to people that are food insecure and hungry. We work with other organizations to help move people out of poverty. And we are really just starting to formulate how we can shorten the line for food assistance, so there’s more of a holistic, long-term approach to helping people.

KCM:What is your vision for leading the organization?

Watson: Much of it comes from the people who are employed here, from throughout the network and the people who we serve. I need a listening ear to create that knowledge base, the fearlessness to speak up for those people that don’t have a voice, and [the willingness] to target our resources to programs and efforts that have the kind of impact we need them to have.

KCM:What is the importance of the Harvesters mission?

Watson: That we give people a sense of community. [There are] people who have a need for food assistance, and we can meet that need because individuals, businesses and organizations throughout this community come together and pool their resources to help other people. It’s a way that they get to connect.

KCM:What is your favorite part of the holiday season?

Watson: My favorite aspect of the holiday season is Thanksgiving dinner at my mom’s house with up to 50 people who will come through. She has lived in the same house for almost 53 years, and you never know who will come by. I couldn’t imagine not having it. But what happens if you get to Grandma’s house and there’s no food? Hunger is in every area of our community.

By Lisa Waterman Gray