Name: Kayte Morris

Profession: Executive Director, Island Food Pantry

Washed ashore from: Maine, New York City, Boston

Years ago: 1

Favorite Spot on Island: My sunroom in Vineyard Haven, napping while listening to the ferry horn.

When Kayte Morris talks about her new role as Executive Director of the Island Food Pantry, she lights up. She’s always seen herself as a fighter for those in need so this work seems to be the right fit, in the right place, at the right time. She knew it the day she walked into the food pantry to volunteer a little more than a year ago.

“I had just read of yet another government program [for those in need] being cut and I was bummed out. Ten minutes later I walked into the pantry and the first interaction I overheard was a volunteer telling a client, ‘Take what you need. If you need extra, take that too.’ In this climate, that sounded almost revolutionary — so right, so human — I knew this was work I wanted to do.”

Q. Let’s back up. Where are you from and how did you get here?

A. I grew up in Gorham, Maine, near Portland. I went to Plymouth State College in New Hampshire and studied overseas in Scotland. Summers, to make money, I worked on the Vineyard. Between college sophomore and junior years, I met my husband, an Island guy. I worked at Mocha Motts and he got a lot of coffee that summer! We lived in Boston, then New York, then married in 2014 and moved back to Boston.

Q. What work did you do in those years?

A. I’ve spent my entire career in nonprofits mostly working on social media and technology. I worked for a large national nonprofit in New York City and led a team of developers who created the software that a lot of nonprofits use to get their message out through email, websites and social media.

Q. How did you happen to move here?

A. We loved New York, but we began to realize that most of the people we loved were here or in Maine, so we moved back to Boston. Then my husband, Sam, got a job running technology for the new Martha’s Vineyard Museum and we moved here permanently.

Q. What did you find when you volunteered and then were actually hired by the Island Food Pantry?

A. I found a lot of very dedicated and wonderful volunteers, a really beautiful foundation. And I found an organization that was up on its feet and successful, but still had a lot of on-going logistical problems in terms of delivering services on the Island.

Q. The pantry focuses on food insecurity. How big a problem is that here?

A. Feeding America estimates that one in 11 residents of Dukes County is food insecure. That includes 12 or 13 percent of the children. And the seasonal nature of our economy means it is worse in the winter months. Right now we are serving about 40 to 50 percent of those in need.

Q. Why do you think that is?

A. I think it’s because of the stigma. People don’t come to the food pantry the second something happens. Often shame or fear prevents people from getting the help they need for months.

Q. How do you counter that?

A. If someone is too anxious to come to the pantry for the first time, I will meet them during off-hours with their social worker or whomever, give them a tour, walk them through the experience of what it’s like when there are lots of people here, register them separately and allow them to shop. Then the next time they know what to do and what to expect, and it’s not as scary.

Q. What else keeps you from reaching all who need you?

A. The other limitation is capacity. Now that we are focusing on healthy foods, more produce, meats and frozen foods, we definitely need to increase our ability to store fresh and frozen items. I think we will need a bigger space overall sooner rather than later. And that means more fundraising.

Q. How do the holidays affect your work?

A. We see an up-tick in visits, a huge up-tick in food donations and in people who want to volunteer. And, of course, the food itself changes — lots of turkey, lots of chicken, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce — all the fixins’ appear on our shelves.

And like most non-profits, we raise most of our money for the rest of the year in the last few months, which means we’ll be writing lots of thank you notes.

Q. What works best for you, food or cash donations?

A. Both! We are grateful for all. But I think it would surprise people to know that we buy most of our food, and at a deep discount, thanks to the Greater Boston Food Bank and other wonderful partners. For example, for what you pay for a can of corn at any Island grocery store, we can buy a case! So cash goes further, but we are hoping people will give in either or both ways. If you are adding to those purple boxes at the supermarket with anything unopened, unexpired and non-perishable, thank you!

Q. Any other guidelines?

A. We love toiletries, shampoos, lotions, deodorant! We love healthy foods and treats — anything you think the people you love would like.

Q. What are some of your other plans for the future of the Island Food Pantry?

A. Well, we just received a major grant from the Permanent Endowment [for Martha’s Vineyard] towards buying a refrigerated truck. That means food can’t spoil in summer heat and traffic on Cape Cod; but it also means we may be able to bring food to those who, for many reasons, can’t get to the food pantry. This refrigerated truck has that potential for us.

Q. So you’ve been here more than a year now, what do you think?

A. I love it! This year has been a whirlwind — first-time homeowner, first time running an organization, and my sister (who lives here) is having her first baby! But I love the sense of community here, and I absolutely love being able to tell clients, “We’re glad you’re here, take what you want, take what you need.” Paula Lyons is a former television consumer journalist. She lives in Vineyard Haven. The Island Food Pantry is open Monday and Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Stone Church in Vineyard Haven. For more information or to learn about volunteering, donating, or becoming a client, visit


The Island Food Pantry is open Monday and Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Stone Church in Vineyard Haven. For more information, visit

Paula Lyons is a former television consumer journalist. She lives in Vineyard Haven.