Keeping Hope Alive

By Bill Bolling, Executive Director
August - October 2010

Each year, as June approaches, we begin the process of wrapping up our fiscal year and planning for a new one. Audits are completed and annual reports are prepared. The philosophy that motivates this part of our work is "Things that get counted get done." Every department and program must build their budget and articulate what resources they truly need to accomplish their goals. At the same time, our development and marketing departments must determine how much money and food we can expect to raise.

With a 33% increase in distribution this past year, we have all been challenged. Like other nonprofits, schools, foundations, businesses, congregations, and government agencies - we are trying to do more with less, leveraging what we have to make a greater impact.

All this work has been done in the context of our country fighting its longest war, suffering through its biggest oil spill, building its greatest budget deficit, experiencing its highest rates of unemployment, and engineering the most severe budget cuts at every level of state, county, and city governments. Needless to say, our 30th year has been a memorable one:

What would become of him?

I met him in front of the Food Bank one evening, after working late. He was obviously homeless - didn't look like he'd had a bath in days. He carried everything he owned in an old suitcase he had picked up along the way. He didn't ask for food or money; instead he asked if we were hiring. Looking at him, I thought, "man, you have a lot of work to do before you could work here." But I didn't discourage him; just let him know that we opened our doors everyday at 8:00 a.m., and if he was clean and sober, he could apply inside. Somehow, the next evening he was there again in the same spot, still telling me how much he wanted to work. He said he had applied, but had been told he would have to wait for an opening. He shared that he was a good man; had a wife and three beautiful kids, had made some serious mistakes, but just needed a new chance to prove himself. That was the last I thought I would see of him.

Will this week really matter?

The students showed up at the Food Bank on Monday morning, unsure of what the week would bring. Everyone was a little shy, coming from different high schools, backgrounds, and motivations. Thus began our 4th annual Youth Leadership Summit. Our education and advocacy staff spends months planning and preparing for this one week of the year, without knowing if the old learning methods will work again, or if the new ideas will be well received or effective. Of course the magic of learning and bonding began almost immediately, and we knew that something powerful would take place...

Why not ask them?

It was a good idea, one that had been rumbling around in my head for some time. Some called it ambitious, while others quietly keep their own counsel of doubt. In a time of increasing need, I thought, "why don't we take time away from the day-to-day demands to talk to some of our most important customers - our partner agencies? Why not create forums in their communities, and just listen to what is on their minds? What are their greatest current needs, and how can we best serve them? Do they have a strategic plan? Do they collaborate with other agencies nearby to meet the needs in their communities? Are they even able to meet the increased needs? Are they expecting to grow? And what could be done together - that done separately - would not be as successful?"

How did things turn out?

These three stories are all tied by a common thread - the Food Bank's mission of engaging, educating and empowering not only communities - but individuals - in the fight against hunger:

The man I met in front of the Food Bank is no longer homeless; he's just celebrated a year of sobriety, is back in the work force, has reunited with his family, and most importantly, is there again for his children.

Our Youth Summit participants have completed their course. During their closing ceremony they told us they've gained new perspectives on the issues of hunger and poverty, and they feel encouraged and empowered to make a measurable difference. They've developed learning plans to take back to their homes, neighborhoods and schools, "friended" each other on Facebook, and made plans to get together again soon. We have a hunch that some of them will be friends for life. (See article on page 7 of the August 2010 Foodsharing.)

Many conversations with our partner agencies were initiated and continue as part of a formal process that includes face-to-face interviews, forums and surveys. What we learn will be critical - not only to our strategic plans in the years to come, but also in how we best work together to address the needs in our 38 county service area.

And so we begin again...

As I'm writing this, the Food Bank's audit is progressing nicely, the budget was passed, and we're once again beginning a brand new year with brand new ways to carry out our mission.

As we kick off our new fiscal year, we know what is possible, because we base our future success on a foundation of accomplishment, experience, knowledge gained and continued support from our dedicated community of friends, volunteers and donors.

Our collective work is the key that connects us, keeping hope alive for another day. It's a journey we are blessed to share, and we give thanks.

Bill Bolling