By CECELIA GOODNOW
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
Before long, Operation: Sack Lunch may need one of those fast-food signs that post a running count of sandwiches served to date.
The feed-the-homeless program that singer Beverly Graham started in her kitchen in 1990 has grown into a major charitable concern that serves 2,300 meals each week at the plaza of Fourth Avenue and Cherry Street in Seattle.
"We've served over 750,000 meals," says Graham, 45, who won a Jefferson Award four years ago for the project she conceived to thwart self-pity during her struggle with multiple sclerosis. She represented Washington state in the national Jefferson Award competition.
Originally funded with $30,000 in family savings, Operation: Sack Lunch now has a $257,000 annual budget and an army of student volunteers. It also employs two formerly homeless men.
Graham, who oversees the project from her Whidbey Island home, says her Jefferson Award had a "huge impact" in establishing the program's legitimacy among skeptical merchants and city officials. The city of Seattle recently renewed a two-year, $30,000 grant.
"Before the Jefferson Award," Graham said, "I was criticized for doing this program."
Graham has continued to shoulder the administrative duties despite a flare-up of MS symptoms last year. She'd welcome a chance to delegate some responsibilities but says she'll always play a role in the project.
"The thing I'm good at," she said, "is getting people revved up."
The start of the 2001 Jefferson Award competition is a chance to recognize the hard work of the volunteers who help Washington communities thrive.
This is the 24th year that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has sponsored the Jefferson Awards in Washington state to recognize the dedication, sacrifice and accomplishments of people who serve others. Winners are selected from those nominated by P-I readers.
The awards are named for Thomas Jefferson, the nation's third president, who drafted the Declaration of Independence and encouraged citizens to become involved in their communities.
The Jefferson Awards program is sponsored nationally by the American Institute for Public Service in New Castle, Del. It was founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, former U.S. Sen. Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard, former state associate to Sen. Robert Kennedy, to recognize ordinary people who do extraordinary things for their communities.
Five Washington state nominees will receive state Jefferson Award medallions at a CityClub luncheon in April. One of the five will represent Washington in a competition with Jefferson Award recipients from across the country.
The national winners will receive Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Awards during festivities June 11-13 in Washington, D.C.
Nominations should be made using the accompanying coupon and submitted with a letter describing the merits and accomplishments of the nominee.
Coupons can also be printed out from www.seattlep-i.com/jefferson/
If possible, nominations should include supporting documentation such as copies of other awards, photographs, newspaper articles or letters from those helped by the nominee.
Nominations must be submitted to the P-I by 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 7. They may be made by individuals, clubs, churches, businesses or other organizations. Only individuals, not organizations, can be nominated.
Those nominated but
not chosen as recipients in previous years are eligible for renomination.