Giving back is part of Leslie Gordon’s DNA. The Tarrytown resident and president/CEO of Feeding Westchester* has made it her vocation and has had a truly remarkable career in the nonprofit sector. Gordon says that the most consistent thread in her life has been the desire to make a difference. Running alongside this is an inherent business acumen that was developed through mentoring by her parents and grandparents, who Gordon says have been incredibly helpful throughout her career.
Last year, Gordon was the recipient of a number of accolades, including being named one of 914INC.’s 2019 Women in Business, and in WAG magazine’s most fascinating women in Westchester and Fairfield Counties, alongside the likes of Hillary Clinton and Glenn Close. “I think 2019 was my year,” she laughs. Although Gordon says it’s nice to get the recognition on a personal level, it also brings greater attention to Feeding Westchester, the county’s leading nonprofit hunger-relief organization, and for her, that’s what it’s really about.
Her mother, Myra Gordon, whom she regards as an incredible role model and the biggest presence in her life when she was growing up, has been running the Bronx’s Hunts Point Cooperative Market, the world’s largest wholesale food market, for the past 30 years. “That’s a male-dominated world, and in that era, it was very unusual for women to occupy C-suite positions,” Gordon says. “All of us owe a debt of gratitude to women like her, who paved the way for the rest of us.”
“Despite Westchester being regarded as one of the most affluent counties in the U.S., people don’t realize there is a deep-seated need for food.”
Gordon has a rich connection to Westchester County through her family and her involvement in the community. The youngest of three siblings, Gordon grew up in New Castle and went to Ossining High School. Not only is she a fourth-generation Westchester County resident, she is the third generation to own the house purchased by her grandparents in Tarrytown in the 1930s, where she now lives with her wife, Suzie, who is a nurse. “It’s wonderful to carry on the legacy,” she says.
She grew up around food and an awareness of healthy eating. Her grandfather was an avid gardener, and she has fond memories of pulling green beans out of the garden and watching him pickle fresh cucumbers. The idea of philanthropy and giving back to the community spans generations, and her grandfather was famous in Tarrytown for putting any excess food his family didn’t need into paper bags and leaving them on neighbors’ front doorsteps.
Even as a child, Gordon was active in volunteerism and helped out at the National Audubon Society and Teatown Lake Reservation in Ossining. After graduating high school, she attended Boston University, where her propensity to help others continued. She became president of Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity dedicated to doing good in the community. She organized food drives and worked on projects such as painting walls at a local food pantry. “I found it energizing and still do,” says Gordon. After a stint at Bard College, she received her degree in sociology from SUNY New Paltz.
Fresh out of college, Gordon landed a job working in a commodities trading commission for Louis Dreyfus. It became obvious it was the antithesis of who she was, and she realized she needed to be in a place where she could make a difference. “I had to figure that out myself,” says Gordon. “It wasn’t obvious that I should be in the nonprofit sector, because back in those days, they didn’t tell you about it in college.”
Her first job in the nonprofit sector was at the National Office of the American Lung Association in Manhattan. Since then, she has worked at an array of other high-profile nonprofits, including the American Heart Association in Dutchess County and America’s Promise in Washington, DC, where she was national director under General Colin Powell. Before joining Feeding Westchester in Elmsford three years ago, Gordon spent 10 years at City Harvest, New York City’s largest food-rescue organization.
Gordon has a genuine love and enthusiasm for what she does and sees it not as a job but as a mission. “Despite Westchester being regarded as one of the most affluent counties in the U.S., people don’t realize there is a deep-seated need for food,” she comments. “When people step into our more than 30,000-square-foot operation center, it quickly illuminates the scope of the issue in the county. It’s not just in the places you might think, like Mount Vernon or Yonkers, it’s deeply insidious, in places like Larchmont, Mamaroneck, and Bedford.”
The scale of what they do at Feeding Westchester is indeed impressive. “We source and distribute over 11 million pounds of food each year through our partner agencies, fresh markets, and mobile food pantries to those who need it. More than 40 percent of it is fresh produce,” reveals Gordon, who is passionate about connecting people to good, nutritious food. “Although feeding people who are hungry is our core mission, we’re doing a lot around culinary and nutrition education out in the field, too,” she says. She is immensely proud of her team of 45 people (whom she refers to as a “lean, mean, driven team”) and what the organization is doing overall. “We have a wonderful volunteer program, which we rely on heavily, that gets more than 11,000 people each year,” she says.
According to Gordon, who is known for her no-nonsense approach and for getting things done, what you see is what you get. On first impressions, she is down-to-earth and has a great sense of humor. Matt Honeycutt, VP of Development at Feeding Westchester, describes her as genuine, charming, and charismatic, with a big capacity for empathy. “It’s rare for one person to possess all those qualities,” he remarks. “She is also passionate about the work she does, even more so at Feeding Westchester, because it’s such an important local cause.”
Despite her stature, Gordon seems to have retained a refreshing sense of humility. “Giving back is part of who I am,” she says, “and I count myself as lucky to have such a fabulous opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives in our county.”
*Since publishing this story, Leslie Gordon has moved on to the Food Bank for New York City.
Janine Clements is a freelance writer from the U.K. She lived on four different continents before deciding to make Westchester her home.