Executive Director, Meals on Wheels by ACC
At the age of 40, Kevin McAllister has trouble remembering a time when he was not making hard decisions.
He got an early start, joining AmeriCorps to work in early childhood literacy while attending Solano Community College. He later graduated from Sacramento State and earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from National University in 2011, attending virtually while working full time for the San Juan Unified School District overseeing their Bridges after school program. In 2010, he founded a nonprofit to advance opportunities for foster youth in the Sacramento region — he was informally adopted at 15 — and he has held leadership positions in various nonprofit organizations ever since.
But it is in his executive director role with Meals on Wheels by ACC, which hired him in 2019, that his acumen has been most tested.
Meals on Wheels America is a program operated by the nonprofit ACC Senior Services that supports Sacramento County seniors with nutritious meals, social connection, community resource information and other essential services. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the program delivered an average of 491,000 meals annually to seniors, five days a week, with a small group of paid drivers and roughly 500 volunteers — many of them retirees. When COVID-19 forced people inside, it increased the need for meal deliveries but reduced Meals on Wheels’ volunteer pool by about 60 percent.
It could have been a perfect storm. But it wasn’t.
Sending volunteers home in the earliest days of the pandemic, when they were most needed, was perhaps the hardest decision McAllister has ever made. “I had just enough time to learn what Meals on Wheels did and get to know my staff before we went into COVID mode,” McAllister says, adding that people were afraid and unsure of what would happen next. “Is this the right decision?” he remembers asking himself. “What if COVID doesn’t spread like they say it will?”
In the end, McAllister “went with his gut.” Before most people had fully realized the gravity of COVID-19, he was already stocking up on supplies and food pallets. His preparedness paid off.
“The mission is not just seniors here … it’s seniors everywhere. My people, meaning human beings, we should show up for each other.”Kevin McAllister, Executive Director, Meals on Wheels by ACC
“We were not only able to keep operations going but ordered so many additional supplies that we were able to help other senior nutrition programs across the state. … That’s something I’m proud of,” McAllister says. “The mission is not just seniors here … it’s seniors everywhere. My people, meaning human beings, we should show up for each other.”
Reserve rations weren’t the only fuel behind Meals on Wheels. It also benefited from the support of a community that recognized the urgency of the mission. In a time of great need, firefighters and law enforcement officers stepped up to deliver.
“We had all these essential workers that came together to help keep seniors fed,” McAllister says, recalling the first weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown.
In the weeks and months to follow, McAllister and his team would find new (and better) ways to provide meals, now every day of the week. The program partners with local eateries, food banks, and delivery services like DoorDash and provides hazard pay for employees.
“We never had to shut down, and we were able to increase our capacity by over 125 percent,” says McAllister. “We built a whole new program around it and will continue to partner with restaurants to get meals to seniors.”
In 2021, Meals on Wheels fed 4,443 seniors a total of 526,000 meals, which was 35,000 more meals than their pre-COVID average.
When asked how he makes decisions with stakes so high, McAllister replies, “My goal is always to do what’s best for the people that I serve, and so I don’t take decisions lightly, but I make them because they have to be made in order for us to truly meet the mission of our organization.”
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