Social Networking: The Old Fashioned Way

By Bill Bolling, Executive Director
May 2010 - July 2010

On Sunday, March 14, the Metro Atlanta community came together for the 26th annual Hunger Walk/Run. After suffering through a very rare snow storm last year that literally stopped the Walk, we were hoping this year for a sunny, clear day. While thankfully it didn't rain, it was cloudy, windy and cold. Never-the-less, over 10,000 people came to the Walk to celebrate their commitment to fight hunger and poverty.

At the end of the Walk we often have people either come up to us or write us a note telling us what the experience meant to them. One letter from a first time walker was particularly poignant:

As with all my first experiences in America, my first Hunger Walk left memorable impressions on my mind. Thousands of people had gathered despite the inclement weather. Young and old, of all different colors and creeds, the multitude showed their solidarity to the sad phenomenon of hunger that still plagues the planet.

The atmosphere, contrary to what I expected, resembled a festivity. Where I come from, one expects a grim, solemn, and maybe gloomy color to paint this event calling attention to hunger.

Yet, despite the shadow of heavily loaded clouds, the air was filled with laughter, music, and cheerful talks as if by just coming to the walk, people had already eradicated poverty and the problem of hunger. Another American contradiction, I thought. Another excuse to have a family outing or just plain fun.

Alas! Looking closely, I realized that I had misjudged the behavior. All these people surely had better ways to spend their Sunday, other than walking 5K in the cold. The excitement and the joy came from seeing so many people defying the weather to raise help and awareness about something that probably didn't even remotely affect them. People on Turner Field were celebrating the solidarity and the care shown toward the suffering of others. They were proclaiming that despite all things, human kindness prevails. Hope for a better future was there in front of our eyes. How can someone not get excited?

Among all things, a cry from a senior lady will stay with me in my heart. She stood in the sidewalk cheering the walking crowd and crying out loud: This is America! Nobody should go hungry on this land! If I can ever claim that I experienced the Divine, I may say that moment was one. My heart expanded and joined the cry modifying it to include every breathing soul on the globe. "This is God's blessed earth! Nobody should go hungry on it!"

Thank you.
Maryam Ozer
Interfaith Outreach Coordinator
Turkish American Institute

Maryam realized something that many of us may take for granted - our sense of individual & community empowerment to do something together of significance. She may have seen something with new immigrant eyes that is often overlooked by those of us who have been bombarded with negative thoughts and images - that our greatest strength is community, to share a common experience, a learning moment, a new insight or an idea for action.

The Walk may be over, but the Food Bank has plenty of other opportunities to come together and in Maryam's words, to "celebrate the solidarity and the care shown toward the suffering of others."

For our Community Gardens Project, the time is ripe for new gardeners to jump in, and for back yard gardeners to "Plant a Row for the Hungry" and donate their extra produce to a local agency.

For our Kids In Need project, it means wrapping up a school year in which school supplies were provided for thousands more students; and preparing to distribute supplies for our partner agencies with summer youth programs.

For our Product Rescue Center, where volunteers come to sort and pack food boxes, it means more weekday shifts for kids, parents and anyone else looking for meaningful summer activities.

For our friends and supporters, it's a great season for introducing friends and family to fun ways to get involved with the Food Bank. Our special events team is busy at work on a variety of events, everything from a great new series of Simple Abundance cooking classes, to our Supper Club dining events, and the annual Letter Carriers Food Drive and Taste of the Nation event that happens each May. These are just a few fun and easy ways to give back.

But it's also a serious time. Our Board is beginning to grapple with budgets and the board nominating process. And our program managers are thinking about building budgets, and what assumptions to make in these uncertain times. With distribution up over 30% this year, our concern is not only with growth but sustainability.

We continue to live in uncertain times. Not quite as bad as some politicians would like us to believe - not quite Armageddon or the failure of democracy - but neither is it like anything we have seen or experienced before.

As we look for moral leadership in a time of great change, we might need to remember how inter-connected we ultimately are.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said it well, "In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality."

Maryam and many others have learned to recognize the value of celebrating our excitement and joy for the work, of expressing hope for the future, of defying the odds to raise help and awareness, of celebrating solidarity, and showing care toward the suffering of others. Human kindness prevails, often in places we would never think to look.

It is clear to me that leadership will not come from those caught up blaming each other, or from the ones who always find fault before they find hope. Our representatives in government at every level seem powerless to move an agenda forward and build consensus toward positive action. We are pretty evenly divided politically, but caught in our positions instead of a shared dream.

Leadership will more likely come from those who must make their way through no way, who have the entrepreneur spirit of possibility, who take chances and defy the odds. It will be grounded in faith and the belief in the sacredness and interconnectivity of life.

In the Food Bank community we are privileged to share the journey with some of these people, to work side by side with those who believe in themselves, to serve with those who know very clearly their own call and purpose in life. We do things together that makes a difference. It is a social network that will ultimately change the dynamics of community and life as we know it.

And it's only a bold step away proclaiming "This is God's blessed earth! Nobody should go hungry on it!"

Bill Bolling