Monday, May 27, 2024

Sasha Purpura, of Food For Free, outside a fundraiser held Nov. 20, 2021, in Cambridge’s Central Square. (Photo: Tyler Motes)

Food For Free’s Sasha Purpura is stepping down as chief executive after 10 years, the Cambridge- and Somerville-based food rescue and redistribution nonprofit said Monday.

Chair of the board Stephen Pratt has been serving as interim chief executive since Nov. 1 while the nonprofit runs an executive search, Food For Free revealed Monday. He remains president of Impact Catalysts, a consultant for social enterprises and philanthropies, and will not be a candidate for the permanent role.

It was a good time for Purpura to step down, said Pratt, an adviser on Food For Free’s most recent five-year strategic plan.

“The organization is in a position of strength,” Pratt said in a press release. “We have the financial stability and innovative approach to supply-chain bottlenecks in the emergency food system to continue expanding our impact across more than 20 communities in Eastern Massachusetts to ensure people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities have continued and reliable access to nutrition.”

A search committee for the next CEO is just forming and may complete its work in six to eight months, but it was too early to give specifics about the process. “We are going to take some time to think about Food For Free’s strategic direction,” Pratt said by phone Monday.

Food for Free was asked the reason for Purpura’s departure, and Pratt responded. “She accomplished everything she set out to do here. She’s ready for her next chapter,” Pratt said, calling “a decade of leadership of any nonprofit an extraordinary achievement.”

Purpura said in a Wednesday post on LinkedIn that she was “hoping to take some time to breathe”:

I left the corporate world … to find something different. I had no idea where I was headed. I knew I wanted something tangible – something where life, work, and community were integrated. I never could have imagined where I would land. Food For Free brought out the best in me, and I’d like to think I brought out the best in Food For Free.

Purpura was described by Food For Free as key to its growth since joining in July 2012 – transforming the nonprofit founded in 1981 from one serving just Cambridge into a regional force and growing its operating revenues (excluding food donations) to $4.1 million from approximately $400,000. The amount of food distributed has risen to 7.3 million pounds annually, and last year Purpura led the opening of a 12,000-square-foot packing and distribution center in Somerville, though Food for Free remains based in Cambridge’s Central Square.

The organization helps feed 150,000 residents and works with more than 80 food donors and 100 pantry partners around Eastern Massachusetts.

Purpura pioneered ways to capture and distribute excess fresh and prepared food to students, families and homebound residents, including Heat-N-Eats prepared meals that use surplus food from university and corporate dining halls and “pandemic-born” Just Eats, providing fresh produce and staples in grab-and-go boxes, Food For Free said.

“The food access landscape has changed tremendously since I started this work,” Purpura said in the press release. “The organization has kept a close pulse on the evolving needs and disparities that challenge communities struggling with getting enough to eat, and consequently has pivoted programming to best serve the needs of Massachusetts’ most vulnerable populations with dignity.”

Purpura said she look forward to watching the organization’s “continued good work.”

This post took significant amounts of material from a press release.