Michael Kato is a Research Analyst at Feeding America, and has been a YNPN Chicago member for 3 years. We asked him a few questions about his nonprofit career:
How did you first become interested in a nonprofit career?
I studied for my Master’s in Social Sciences at The University of Chicago, and there developed a far deeper understanding of socioeconomic inequality. My classes helped me comprehend more fully the depth of struggles that some people in our country face, and helped me theorize some of the factors that contribute to those divisions. At a U of C networking event, I happened to connect with an alumna of the school, who connected me with the Research & Evaluation team at Feeding America.
Who is your professional mentor and why?
I have benefited from mentoring and guidance from a lot of different people, both academically, and in my nonprofit career. However, I will name John van Hengel, who was a key inventor of the idea of food banking, or rescuing food that would otherwise not be used, so that it could be given to people struggling to afford enough healthy nutrition. From the food bank he started in Phoenix, Arizona, his idea has expanded to a network of 200 food banks across the United States, who partner with the food industry to get healthy food to millions of low-income families, and who advocate for federal programs designed to help those in need.
In your opinion, what is the most pressing issue facing the nonprofit and social impact sector in Chicago?
There is a lot of stigma around those in need of assistance. At Feeding America, we know there are a lot of people struggling to afford enough nutritious food who do not seek help for this reason; it is difficult for them to admit that they are not able to provide for themselves and their families. Additionally, there is a lot of misinformation out there about government programs for those in need, and about the issue of hunger in general. One factor in this is certainly the political division we see in our country, but another is the mentality of, ‘Oh, that can’t be happening in my city; it’s happening somewhere else.’ But poverty is a problem everywhere in the US, and a key part of our mission at Feeding America is communicating to the American people that there are families struggling with hunger in every county in the United States.
What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
My girlfriend and I love experiencing the wonderful arts community in Chicago, including its museums, the small, mid-sized, and Broadway theater performances, and all of the other excellent and diverse entertainment that is available here. Just recently, we saw the terrific exhibit about Ancient China at the Field Museum, and saw the American Theater Company’s superb and hilarious performance, Men on Boats.
If you could travel to one place in the world, where would you choose?
I’ve been to all of the places I really wanted to go, but one thing I had to save for a future trip was climbing Mount Fuji. My parents and I toured Japan when I was a teenager, and we passed by the base of the mountain, where our guide explained that climbers go to the top and sleep there and wake up to see the sunrise at the peak. It’s described as one of the most beautiful things you can see in the world. So I’m eager to go back to Japan and do it!
Member Spotlight is a recurring series that recognizes YNPN Chicago’s dedicated and accomplished membership. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured, please email firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject line Member Spotlight.