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Pandemic forces alumna back home where an opportunity to lead sprung up

Marissa Dake

(Photo by Doug Stremel)

From The Ichabod - Fall 2021
Story by Angela Lutz

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Marissa Dake, ba ’17, faced a major plot twist in her life. Since graduating from Washburn, Dake had been living in Washington, D.C., working at a government affairs firm that specialized in food and agriculture policy. She had hoped to build a career there, but plans quickly changed when her landlord decided to sell the house she shared with her roommates. Suddenly Dake found herself stuffing her belongings in her brother’s Honda Civic and driving back home to Kansas.

“I drove 18 hours straight – it was a pretty anxiety-inducing experience,” Dake said. “I intended to stay with my family for a few weeks and save money on rent until the pandemic ended – but it wasn’t long before I learned about the opportunity to spearhead Operation Food Secure.”

An initiative of the Topeka Rescue Mission, Operation Food Secure aimed to redistribute massive amounts of excess food from the sudden closures of schools, restaurants and other foodservice businesses. The local nonprofit was selected to receive the food through the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program. For Dake, who was familiar with the USDA, it felt like a custom-made opportunity.

Marissa Dake“The pandemic showed how sensitive our supply chains are, but it also revealed how many of us are just one missed paycheck away from hunger,” she said. “On one side, our team was handling 175,000 pounds of perishable food each week, and on the other, we saw a soaring number of families in need of assistance, many of them for the first time. Our team worked around the clock with particular focus on reaching marginalized neighborhoods and rural communities.”

Spearheading Operation Food Secure also gave Dake the chance to reconnect with Miriam Krehbiel, Topeka Rescue Mission senior director of supportive services. Krehbiel has been one of Dake’s mentors since the two were matched through the Washburn Leadership Institute. Krehbiel served on the institute’s advisory board, while Dake served on the Student Leadership Council. During Dake’s time at Washburn, she learned from many other influential community members as well.

“We have an abundance of leaders here who are willing to invest in the lives of students,” Dake said. “My leadership courses often had guest lecturers, and I would approach them after class and ask them for coffee and career advice. No one ever turned me down. Those conversations led to all sorts of opportunities and connections for me.”

Marissa DakeWith the ending of the Farmers to Families program, Dake is proud of the impact she and her team made. In a little over a year, the program mobilized 535 volunteers from 117 partner organizations to distribute 3.4 million meals across northeast Kansas.

“Life throws you lots of curveballs, and there will be so many things you can’t anticipate,” Dake said. “I’ve been out of school for four years, and my life has already taken some pretty exciting twists and turns that have come from being adaptable and willing to serve.” 

the Ichabod magazine fall 2021

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions

 

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