Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Monday, November 21, 2016
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Isabel, Isabel, didn't care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear's big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
How do, Isabel, now I'll eat you!
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry.
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up,
Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.
Once in a night as black as pitch
Isabel met a wicked old witch.
the witch's face was cross and wrinkled,
The witch's gums with teeth were sprinkled.
Ho, ho, Isabel! the old witch crowed,
I'll turn you into an ugly toad!
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry,
She showed no rage and she showed no rancor,
But she turned the witch into milk and drank her.
Isabel met a hideous giant,
Isabel continued self reliant.
The giant was hairy, the giant was horrid,
He had one eye in the middle of his forhead.
Good morning, Isabel, the giant said,
I'll grind your bones to make my bread.
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She nibled the zwieback that she always fed off,
And when it was gone, she cut the giant's head off.
Isabel met a troublesome doctor,
He punched and he poked till he really shocked her.
The doctor's talk was of coughs and chills
And the doctor's satchel bulged with pills.
The doctor said unto Isabel,
)Swallow this, it will make you well.
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She took those pills from the pill concocter,
And Isabel calmly cured the doctor.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
Monday, November 23, 2015
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Spring 1998. Nearly 14 years of devoting ourselves to birthing, nurturing, selling, directing, facilitating, merging, and finally letting go of the phenomenon of FOOD FOR ALL, Inc., we looked at each other and wondered: “What next?”
We were too young (I – 61; Linda – 55) and too poor to retire. Our “severance” pay package had run out and any savings were in a couple of retirement IRAs. But we needed time to process the reality that we no longer had to keep a rigorous and demanding schedule. We suddenly realized that we had not thought through any plans for our future. So we made a pact that we would take two or three months “off” and each explore what might draw us next. Linda took off (literally) and pieced together several meditation retreats – a Women’s Retreat with Ruth Denison at her Joshua Tree center in the desert; a Zen retreat which was happening at the same center; a ten-day retreat on Mindfulness Meditation in Yucca Valley (that one I managed to attend with her); and several individual ones of her own.
I, meanwhile, dabbled in several pursuits, trying to find my creative side: a watercolor class, a computer class on Microsoft Word (I had managed to escape the computer revolution due to having a secretary for all those FOOD FOR ALL years), eight weeks of Spanish (classes all through the Redlands Adult School).
At the beginning of the summer, after spending enough time exploring, the Hamiltons came together for several weeks of “family workshops,” attempting to articulate our family’s values and a vision for where we anticipated life might take us next. We were clear that addressing important issues such as peace and justice, poverty, the environment, would continue to underlie whatever we were doing to sustain ourselves. As for our own living situation, we were committed to “living simply, that others might simply live,” a slogan we adopted from the Simplicity Movement which was gaining momentum during the 90s. Later we would even offer to conduct a series of one-day workshops, called Lifestyle Simplification Labs, which we adapted from what some of our colleagues, Nelson and Elaine Stover, had created on the east coast.
Our First Lifestyle Simplification Lab
One of the benefits of our years working with struggling nonprofit agencies was we had learned the value of networking. As part of our “right livelihood” career exploration we talked to a lot of people we had met through our work. It might come as no surprise that not many of them were in the food industry. There were times when I would get these strange feelings in the pit of my stomach whenever we had to shop in a supermarket (I have since got over that reaction). The people we approached for guidance and advice were those who were working on the front lines, the nonprofit service agencies. At the same time we began kicking around what it would be like to take our experience with both the Institute of Cultural Affairs and FOOD FOR ALL, and form our own little company to help struggling nonprofit organizations (we had lots of experience there).
At the beginning of the summer we were approached by Harriet Pritchard, who founded Alternative Gifts International, a nonprofit which conducted Holiday Gift Fairs, mostly in churches. Harriet was nearing retirement age and saw us as potential “successors” to carry on after her and grow the organization. Milan took the job of Director of Marketing, commuting to Lucerne Valley, a little town in the high desert, once a week, staying in a make-shift apartment in one of Harriet’s buildings. The organization, it turned out, was not quite ready or us, and we for it. So after one season of Holiday gift fairs, Harriet and I mutually agreed to sever the relationship. I just learned from the current executive of AGI that Harriet died in November 2014. I include the internet address of AGI below in case you are interested in reading about another “social pioneer” and a unique nonprofit that is still in service with which I had a brief connection.
Meanwhile Linda had made the acquaintance of Linda Dunn, Director of Inland Agency, which worked with local communities throughout Riverside and San Bernardino counties. IA had just received a grant to work with two small communities, Adelanto and Nuevo. Linda was hired for one year to direct these two projects. The projects were aimed at building local community capacity. After bringing together a wide diversity of people, young and old, holding visioning workshops, identifying local leaders, forming local steering groups, it became clear that the Nuevo community was not right for the project. But Adelanto really came together and began to make great strides. Linda was commuting to the high desert several days a week. Adelanto was a city with great needs, lots of boarded up houses, left after the real estate bust of the 90s, an absence of a supermarket and adequate local services. But the methods Linda was applying were paying off and people began to invest in their own future. An innovative Neighborhood Academy was facilitated by our ICA colleague Raul Jorquera of Phoenix. And a dramatic rehearsal of residents’ aspirations was enacted with the help of another east coast colleague, Bill Grow, founder of Swamp Gravy. Adelanto became a model of what a local community can do when community members get committed and get some tools to realize their vision.
I mentioned earlier that we had the idea to form our own company. Actually, while working with Alternative Gifts International and Inland Agency we wrote a business plan and completed a strategic plan for Participation Works, which we would see grow into a viable self-support vehicle, finally retired from active service just last year. We were not sure exactly what our niche would be. We sent letters to city and county agencies, school districts, and nonprofit executives. We talked to our friends. We offered to do a few “freebies.” We kept busy making contacts but felt like it was going to take a couple years of treading water before we actually had any actual clients.
Then right in the middle of Linda’s Adelanto contract, we submitted a proposal to the County of San Bernardino, which was attempting to integrate all of their Human Service agencies to provide more seamless services to clients. We knew the project, which was to be a year or more to completion, was more than we could handle, so we brought in one of our ToP Trainer colleagues (ToP = Technology of Participation), Jane Stallman, from northern California. Jane had had experience working with large and complex organizations. We were competing with a couple of other consulting firms from outside California. And surprise! We got the contract. The next six to eight months were filled with meetings, meetings, meetings. The County gave us office space in one of their buildings. Jane was commuting from Oakland, spending three days a week with us, rooming at my mother’s place. I was assigned the duty of handling all the contract obligations, invoicing and depositing and writing checks, as well as documenting all of the meetings and planning sessions (my new found skill with Microsoft Word). Weekly meetings with the twelve-plus members of the Leadership Team, comprised of the heads of all the various human service agencies. Monthly meetings, sometimes more often, with the management staff from all these agencies. Endless hours meeting among ourselves to stay ahead of the whole process. The process was kicked off with a two-day complete strategic planning retreat, followed by involving around 200 management and line staff members. In addition to all of these meetings, our team was tasked to provide training in the methods we were using (ICA ToP methods) for the County Training Department staff.
To complicate life further, most of the individual members of the Leadership Team, all agency heads who were used to running their own show, managing their own budgets, and maintaining their own little fiefdoms, were resisting the process of bringing them all together into one coordinated system. But they were instructed by the County Administrator and the Head of Human Services, to make this work. That is until, John Michaelson, who hired us, had two heart attacks within a space of a few weeks. He never was able to return to work and retired before the end of the summer. Our champion was gone. We still had the better part of a year to go on our contract. About the middle of August we received a letter from John’s deputy director: “In view of recent developments, we have decided to go in a different direction. Your services will no longer be needed. Thank you for your service.” I called the County finance office to find out about our contract fulfillment. I submitted an invoice for the balance of our contract and received a check for the full amount. You may wonder what ever happened to the County of San Bernardino Human Services Department. It still functions. In its separate fiefdoms. But, a part of the later story is that the Training Department people we trained in participatory methods, have continued to use those methods in helping County departments in their planning, and PERC, as it is known, has continued to send people every year for training in the courses that we have offered. We still encounter people, from time to time, who participated in the process and/or the trainings, and they speak enthusiastically about recalling what was accomplished.
It is difficult to believe that all of this could have happened in the first two years after we left the leadership of FOOD FOR ALL. But it seems to have been the launching pad for our little home-based company. Participation Works was on the way! And we are barely at the end of the twentieth century.
Monday, May 4, 2015
Hunger and malnutrition, homelessness, diseases, poverty, mental illness, human rights, climate change and the environment, child abuse, human trafficking . . .on and on. All big issues in themselves. All still with us.
I was involved in the very beginning of a simple idea using a scan-able bar code to make it possible for customers to make charitable donations at supermarket check stands. It had never been done before. Along with our having to figure out all the logistics and systems, we had to demonstrate the potential for funds to be raised simply and easily by supermarkets. Today, thanks to the proliferation of the scanner technology and the computerization of systems to manage money, many billions have been raised for all of the above causes, and more. The system has evolved and expanded into many other venues. And while raising money has not and cannot solve any of them, millions of everyday folk now have the opportunity to add a small donation to their bill as they make a purchase for themselves or their family. This is the legacy of FOOD FOR ALL.
FOOD FOR ALL at Kickoff, first and future donation cards
When I reflect on the legacy of FOOD FOR ALL, what appears is the image of a jewel that was found buried in a box with a note attached to it saying “This jewel must be given away or it will become a worthless stone.”
For several years, when I would encounter an individual with a little table and a “please help” sign at the entrance to a supermarket where we shopped, I would smile and say to myself “I gave at the check stand.” This was because the FOOD FOR ALL program was offered by that retailer, making it easy to just pick up a card and have it scanned and added to my grocery receipt as a tax-deductible donation. I also knew that the donation would be well-managed and that most of it would be applied to finding solutions to end hunger. I knew this because I was one of the founders of FOOD FOR ALL. I knew this because I had helped develop a system to train local people to staff volunteer grant boards, who continually educated themselves and their grantees on addressing root causes of hunger. I knew this because we were from the beginning continually educating ourselves about root causes of hunger and approaches that worked in addressing it. I knew this because the FOOD FOR ALL organization was always about much more than raising money and giving grants.
When Linda came up with the idea of a simple display at supermarket checkouts holding a bar-coded card, making it easy to add a donation to stop hunger, only about half of retail stores in the country even had the new scanning capability. It was an added chore for companies to do fundraising promotions. They either had to set up barrels for product donations or cash register coin boxes that were a nightmare for accounting and easy marks for fraud. No one anywhere had done before what FOOD FOR ALL made possible. Today, not only supermarkets but retailers of all kinds can and do offer their customers a chance to add a donation to their purchases, for any number of causes. “Would you like to add a donation to your bill?” followed on the screen by a button to push or a touchscreen image to touch with a “yes” makes it so easy. Some supermarkets still carry the donation cards we designed year-round, with their own logos and promotional materials. More implement a seasonal fundraising appeal using the cards or smaller paper tickets.
Donation Balloons with bar codes at Rite Aid Drugstores
Our original FOOD FOR ALL supermarket in our town of Redlands, California, Gerrards Cypress Center, displays donation cards of $1, $5, and $10 with proceeds going to Redlands Family Service. Stater Bros. Markets created their own nonprofit in 2008, Stater Bros. Charities. The company has continued the year-round program using the same display racks we launched their stores with in 1990, but with their own company information on the $1, $3, and $5 donation cards. Stater Bros. Charities support a variety of local nonprofit agencies, but we still hear occasionally from some of the anti-hunger organizations we funded who are receiving grants. I’ve heard of a few other supermarket chains who have kept the year-round approach going, but I can’t call any by name at the moment.
Top: Gerrards Cypress Center; Bottom: Stater Bros. Markets
FOOD FOR ALL was the first to develop a program that could be replicated in any retail supermarket: “A simple way of giving to help end hunger; just add a scan-able donation card to your grocery purchases every time you shop.”
We were also first in other ways. The food security movement was originally a concept that grew up in the late 1980s. It grew out of the awareness of many anti-hunger activists that what was needed was local community access to affordable, safe, nutritious food. This encompassed support for community gardens, community supported agriculture (e.g., farmers markets), encouraging supermarket operators to enter under-served areas, lobbying for better food policies at the local and state levels. FOOD FOR ALL was one of the first funding organizations to provide grants to such projects.
It is difficult to measure the impact of another pioneering effort of FOOD FOR ALL, but we were known among grant recipient agencies and anti-hunger activists for bringing together both local and international leaders in the field to work on strategies to make a difference in dealing with the hunger issue. Our early Think Tanks on Hunger and Sharing Approaches that Work conferences were a welcome change for those involved in the day-to-day struggle of trying to make an impact on such a difficult issue.
Think Tanks on Hunger—educated us and volunteers on hunger
FOOD FOR ALL from the beginning had an ambitious and pro-active education component, about hunger, its causes and solutions. We knew that customers and store employees especially, needed to be made aware of the importance of adopting the habit of giving and encouraging other customers and employees as well. In addition, community groups were part of the support system we needed to reach. We created several programs to provide the necessary education: The Store Ambassadors, a customer and/or employee in each store to monitor displays and educate others about FOOD FOR ALL; A speakers bureau, to make a simple presentation to local groups on the “Components of a Productive Life,” showing how the loss of any one of the elements, job, housing, health, transportation, could place anyone at risk. The presentation featured a pyramid of boxes, each box representing one of the essentials, and then the presenter pulled out one box at a time until the entire pyramid collapsed. Regular gatherings of the Local Grant Boards for support and sharing learnings were also an important piece of the support system.
An illustration of how FOOD FOR ALL was always pushing the envelope is the way we tried to operate from the big picture and the broadest context possible. Georgianna McBurney, one of our five founding board members, headed up our Funds Distribution Advisory Board for twelve years. Georgianna was a profound and futuristic thinker. One year she came up with a “talk,” which came to be known as “the Gap Talk.” She presented it to one of our meetings in the late 1980s. The gist of it is that we are living in a gap between two ages, the industrial age and the information age. The image that accompanied the talk was a timeline with overlapping half-circles. The first circle, the longest, represents the hunter/gatherer age, which lasted for three million years. The second, the agricultural age, for about ten thousand. The third, the industrial age, and we were just at the end of it after only about three hundred years, when the information age hit us. We do not yet know how to live in it. All of the institutions of society, government, economic, health, education, were built for the industrial age, but with the rapidity of change and the complexity of the information revolution, they are no longer working. The world seems to be crumbling around us. Today, we might even add an additional bit of complexity. We seem to have moved from the information age into what might be termed the “digital age.” This is characterized by virtually all of our human interactions being done digitally. Facebook, You Tube, Google, Twitter, smart phones.
Georgianna McBurney—Our resident futurist
Illustration for the “Gap Talk”
This presentation on the Gap did not give us any better way of deciding how grants should be given, or how agencies could get a handle on the intractable issue of hunger and homelessness. But when people began to understand their situation from a historical perspective, it seemed to provide some relief from the feelings of guilt that accompany any effort to save the world.
All of this is part of the legacy of FOOD FOR ALL. I am glad I am part of it. Every time I enter a store and am asked “Would you like to make a donation to . . . ,” I respond with something like “I’m glad you asked. What is my donation for?” Sometimes I respond with a ‘yes’ and sometimes not. We still shop at Stater Bros. Markets every week. Every week I pick up a donation card and add it to the groceries. Sometimes the checker says thank you. Occasionally I mention that my wife and I founded the program they are continuing and ask “How is Jack Brown doing?” When my donation is acknowledged with a ‘thank you,’ I just smile and say “You’re welcome!”
I’m happy Linda got me involved with her idea. I’m honored to have met and worked with so many wonderful human beings in the thirteen years I was privileged to lead FOOD FOR ALL, those inside and outside the food industry. I enjoyed reading all the letters of thanks from the many anti-hunger agencies and food industry folk, as well as going through all the press clippings and articles that were written during our tenure.
Occasionally, I run into someone in Redlands who still remembers FOOD FOR ALL from those early years, and they ask “Are you and Linda still doing that program for hunger?” Or “Is that FOOD FOR ALL program still going on?” I usually just smile and respond with something like “I’m retired, but I’m sure there are people who are still working hard to help make the world a better place.”
I feel good about what we started and what was accomplished during our watch. But in order to keep myself humble I sometimes remind myself that I can take all of those thank-you letters and press clippings with me, along with my AARP card, and walk into almost any McDonald’s and get a cup of coffee for seventy-five cents.