McKeever out at Open Heart Kitchen

Nonprofit's board appoints interim director while it searches for new leader

Linda McKeever, associated with Open Heart Kitchen almost since it was founded in 1995 and most recently its executive director, is no longer with the organization, but nobody seems to know why.

David Kinley, board president of the nonprofit, said only that "Open Heart Kitchen and Linda McKeever mutually agreed to part ways."

"We are now recruiting for the position of executive director," Kinley said. "In the meantime, our operations director, Clare Gomes, will be serving as interim executive director."

McKeever's departure from her longtime post of director and chief spokeswoman for Open Heart Kitchen, the only hot meal program in the Tri-Valley, was not announced by the organization or McKeever, who is currently out of town. Her absence surfaced when an email to her was answered by Gomes, who said McKeever was no longer with the organization.

An application sent to McKeever to apply again for the Pleasanton Weekly Holiday Fund when the 2016 campaign begins Nov. 18 was returned with Gomes' name without explanation.

However, Open Heart Kitchen's website still lists McKeever as executive director.

McKeever's sudden departure recalls a similar situation last summer when Susan Hayes, executive director of the Pleasanton Partnerships in Education (PPIE) Foundation, was dismissed from her position with no announcement or explanation.

Like Hayes at PPIE, McKeever is well known for her leadership of Open Heart Kitchen by thousands who contribute to the organization and support it through donations of food. Her departure comes at a critical time as the organization boots up for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when its meals for the hungry are most needed.

Last year, Open Heart Kitchen served more than 350,000 hot meals. McKeever also expanded its box lunch program to 21 schools to ensure that all students receive a nutritious mid-day meal on the weekends. With increasing demands for its meal programs, Open Heart Kitchen has been working to expand its hot meal service to seven days a week.

Interim executive director Gomes joined Open Heart Kitchen in September 2014. As operations director, she oversaw the entire day-to-day operations of the organization. She began her career in the semi-conductor industry where she spent 10 years as an engineer.

She then took some time off to raise her family before taking her career in a new direction in the nonprofit arena. Prior to joining Open Heart Kitchen, Gomes spent nearly 10 years managing the food pantry for a local nonprofit.

Besides Kinley, other officers of the Open Heart Kitchen board of directors are Emily Wagner, retired finance director for the city of Pleasanton, board vice president; Emilie Fox, underwriting counsel for Stewart Title Guaranty Company, board secretary; and Claudia Lazzarato, a certified public accountant and tax manager at Robert Lee & Associates, board treasurer.

The other board members include Bruce Bird, investment advisor representative of Transamerica Financial Advisors, Inc.; Justin Gagnon, CEO of Choicelunch, a San Ramon-based healthy school lunch company; Joanne Hall, retired public information officer for the city of Pleasanton; and Gary Harrington, retired after more than three decades as an educator in the public school system.

Rounding out the list are Karen Liamos, technical product manager in the software tools organization at Workday, Inc.; Ted Monk, vice president of Sodexo, where he has responsibility for providing food and facility management solutions to over 200 school districts; Kristina Vannoni, associate marketing director for The Clorox Co.; Carl Wolfston of Headlands Associates; and John Higgins, vice president, gas operations for PG&E.

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11 people like this
Posted by Erin
a resident of Country Fair
on Oct 22, 2016 at 9:03 am

OHK is a fantastic organization that compassionately provides a necessary service to our community. Ms. McKeever's contributions have built an amazing and hugely successful organization. As a volunteer with OHK for the last year, I have personally witnessed the professionalism, pride and commitment each employee exudes and have been honored to work with such an amazing group of people. Transitions can be challenging to manage and Clare has handled her position with grace and professionalism.

6 people like this
Posted by Lisa Gragg
a resident of Livermore
on Oct 22, 2016 at 11:09 am

As one of the Chef’s/Site Supervisors for OHK I am very proud of the work we are doing. As the number of meals we provide weekly continue to grow I have no doubt that with our dedicated team and continued support from the community we will fulfill our mission of feeding the hungry of the Tri-Valley.

6 people like this
Posted by Connie
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Oct 22, 2016 at 11:42 am

I have been volunteering at OHK for two years now. The kitchen and organization is a pleasure to volunteer with and their passion and commitment are inspiring. I am positive OHK will handle the holidays successfully!

10 people like this
Posted by joecortolau
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Oct 22, 2016 at 12:38 pm

joecortolau is a registered user.

As a long-time volunteer with Open Heart Kitchen (OHK), I have every confidence that OHK will continue to provide outstanding service to its clients during this transitional period. I encourage all those who have donated time, food, and/or money to this wonderful organization to continue to do so, and I hope others will be moved to support OHK.

On a personal note I would like to thank Clare Gomes for her commitment to OHK. Her leadership and positive energy are a constant source of encouragement to the staff and volunteers at OHK.

5 people like this
Posted by Jeanette
a resident of Livermore
on Oct 24, 2016 at 6:14 pm

Jeanette is a registered user.

I've volunteered at OHK over the last couple of years, Claire is such a great person who truly cares about the people she helps feed. She will excell at this new position. She is the ultimate professional and her commitment to OHK is undeniable!
People like Claire, the chefs, and all the volunteers humble me and remind me that we all need to help where we can to make this crazy world a better place- so I just sent a check and put my money where my mouth is. I know that every penny will be used wisely and effectively.
Thanks OHK staff for all you do! Keep up the great work.

8 people like this
Posted by MikeC
a resident of Downtown
on Oct 26, 2016 at 7:27 am

MikeC is a registered user.

This article leaves the reader with a sense, perhaps unintentional, that the OHK is struggling with the holiday programs and will struggle in the future. On the contrary, this organization continues to grow and thrive with hard-working management, exceptional staff and dedicated volunteers. I have been a volunteer for more than 2 years and seen first hand how Clare Gomes has managed the Operations with the skill and finesse of a natural organizer. The local Chef/Site supervisors, Lisa, Nilla and Becki are enthusiastic, creative, highly skilled people who deliver hundreds of excellent meals every day under sometimes very trying conditions. The core group of volunteers has been together for most of the last 2 years. We do this because we want to help and being able to work with the OHK staff makes it a pleasure.
This is important because, every week the demand increases, more meals are required and more food is delivered. I think it would be a service to the community if someone at the Pleasanton Weekly did a follow up article on just how well this selfless organization is operating to meet the needs of the Tri-valley.

5 people like this
Posted by DavidC
a resident of Livermore
on Oct 26, 2016 at 11:24 pm

DavidC is a registered user.

I can assure readers of the weekly that Open Heart Kitchen is in very capable hands and will continue its mission of feeding the hungry of the Tri-valley without missing a beat throughout the holidays and well beyond. Having now volunteered 10 hours a week for 18 months at the kitchen site, Clare Gomes leadership and professionalism will keep OHK operating at high levels. Like any organization, large or small, leadership changes are not uncommon and don't necessarily imply that operations will suffer. OHK is a team effort of leadership, board of directors, staff, volunteers and a dash of love that allow it to thrive now and to continue its mission well into the future.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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