Redmond's Higashi earns Hero of Everyday Life Award for commitment to end hunger
By AMY SISK
Redmond Reporter Contributor
June 29, 2011 · Updated 11:21 AM
The Sodexo Foundation recently named Redmond resident Kerwin Higashi one of eight “Heroes of Everyday Life” for his commitment to eliminate hunger.
In 2008, Higashi co-founded Vertically Integrated Partnership, a coalition of farmers, food processors, food distributers and other food service companies in the Pacific Northwest.
Over the past three years, the partnership has overseen the donation and distribution of three million pounds of food.
“The Board of Directors was impressed by (Higashi’s) fairly simple idea of pulling together people and organizations to leverage their individual strengths to make an impact on the community,” said Shondra Jenkins, assistant secretary and vice president of the Sodexo Foundation.
The foundation honors eight “Heroes of Everyday Life” each year at a dinner in Washington D.C. after receiving nominations of Sodexo employees that take a stand to eliminate hunger. The Sodexo Foundation is the charitable arm of Sodexo, Inc., a multinational service solution corporation whose STOP Hunger Initiative promotes hunger relief programs and service activities throughout the United States.
Higashi serves as a vice president of Sodexo and started Vertically Integrated Partnership to prevent surplus food produced by individuals and businesses from going to waste. He enlisted the help of friend Blaine Hirai of Hirai Farms in Quincy, Wash. to organize the partnership.
“Everyone has some excess,” Higashi said. “The challenge is that standing alone, they don’t have a way to get that excess to the people in need.”
Higashi began by recruiting Sodexo managers to repack bulk donations of surplus sweet corn and potatoes from Hirai Farms at local food banks. Higashi and Hirai soon realized the potential to increase their impact by recruiting more organizations. They created a chain of growers, processers, distributers, restaurants, food providers and food banks to efficiently get food from the ground to dinner plates, which they called the Vertically Integrated Partnership.
“They illustrate the notion that you can do more together,” said Linda Nageotte, president and CEO of Food Lifeline, a hunger relief organization in Shoreline, Wash.
Through Vertically Integrated Partnership, Food Lifeline has received hundreds of thousands of pounds of food, including fresh corn on the cob, pinto beans, potatoes, frozen corn and carrots. Donations from the partnership as well as other organizations helped Food Lifeline feed nearly 700,000 people last year, up from 535,000 people before the recession.
“If everybody gave and was dedicated like Kerwin (Higashi) is, we wouldn’t have hunger problems,” Nageotte said.
In addition to donations, Higashi organizes events to serve meals to the hungry. Most recently in May, the partnership fed residents of the tent city on Queen Anne in Seattle. During the 2010 holiday season, University of Washington cooks prepared food donated by one of the partnership’s distributors to serve dinner to guests of the Ronald McDonald House.
Vertically Integrated Partnership plans to host its next event, a barbeque, in White Center near Seattle during August.
Higashi said he wants to expand the partnership involving more organizations. He has set a goal to donate five million pounds of food to local organizations annually.
“The only way to do this is to get Vertically Integrated Partnership off the ground,” he said. “We’ve only scratched the surface.”
Each recipient of the “Hero of Everyday Life” award received a $5,000 check from the Sodexo Foundation to be donated to the charity of their choice. Higashi plans to donate the money to Food Lifeline.