Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Journey of Awakening 62: The Technology of Participation

The Technology of Participation

I remember when classroom technology consisted of blackboards, chalk, pencils and notebooks. Learning meant being able to transfer what the teacher would write with chalk on the blackboard into your notebook with your pencil, whether it happened to pass through your brain or not. My first memories are of blackboards, white chalk, and erasers which you took outside and clapped together to clean them at the end of class. Improvements in this technology were experimented with through the years, such as yellow chalk and green boards. Multi-colored chalk came along later, but was generally reserved for special occasions or projects, or only for the use of skilled teachers. Whiteboards with erasable markers were part of the evolution as well, as were flip charts and magic markers.

These are the tools we had to work with in the early days of facilitating groups for effective decision-making and action. Most group process in the 1960s and 1970s consisted of brainstorming lots of ideas and writing them all down on black or white boards or flip chart paper and then trying to get a group of people to intuitively bring the ideas into some sort of order. Most meetings called together to arrive at a consensus on decisions or actions ended up lost in the massive amount of data they had generated, often running out of time to process the ideas or decide what should be done with them.

It was Linda’s and my years on the staff of the ICA that exposed us to and gave us the tools and training that allowed us to found the FOOD FOR ALL nonprofit and later to start our home-based business Participation Works. When ICA took on the bicentennial Town Meeting ’76 project to conduct five thousand local community meetings across the United States, our staff and volunteers literally had to invent ways to facilitate large and small groups of citizens to articulate a vision for their communities and then determine proposals for action. It was in this crucible of working in communities that the Technology of Participation (ToP) was born and evolved.

We began our business using the same tools we had known all our lives: chalk boards, flip charts, markers, masking tape. Then we added a little creativity, imagination, and trust in the wisdom of regular people. And, the willingness to experiment with group methods enabling people to arrive at consensus and take action for the common good. I guess I would say we used the tools at hand and discovered they could be adapted in creative ways that allowed us to see that there truly is a ‘technology of participation.’ These methods have been refined and re-refined over the last thirty-plus years and are now taught all over the world. They have even been trade-marked as Technology of Participation (ToP).

 Probably the most innovative technological invention used by ToP trainers and facilitators is what came to be known as “the sticky wall.” This is a large 3-foot high sheet of rip-stop (sometimes called parachute) fabric mounted on a flat wall and sprayed with 3M spray mount (the same adhesive used on post-it notes). What this material makes possible is that any size piece of paper can be slapped up on it without tape and it ‘sticks.’ Hence the name “sticky wall.” Invariable people who attended one of our sessions for the first time would ask with puzzled looks on their faces: “What is that material and how does it work?” I often told them “it is a magic wall and you are welcome to come up and examine it.” We even found that when a fabric sticky wall was not available, we could pick up cheap plastic table cloths, spray them, and just throw them away after a meeting.

 Linda and I owe much to our colleagues in the Institute of Cultural Affairs and the ToP Trainers Network. I will not try to describe here the extensive work of the ICA around the world, or the methods used by ToP trainers. If you are interested, you can go to the ICA US website (http://www.ica-usa.org/) or to ICA International (www.icainternational.org) to learn more about these methods and unique groups and individuals, all of whom firmly believe that indeed ‘participation works.’

Monday, November 21, 2016

Journey of Awakening 61: Participation Works--Really!

Participation Works – Really!

A lifetime of service. That was the story that guided my life through all of the 20th century. Working as a pastor and teacher, civil rights activist, peace protester, community-builder, non-profit executive. Now in my early sixties, in good health, employability in question but not ready for retirement, Linda and I assessed our combined experience and acquired skills. We decided to put together a home-based business that could be a source of self-support and provide needed services to organizations committed to the same causes that had caught our passion for making a difference in the world.

Our years of work with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) provided us with training and field experience in methods for social change and community development. Thirteen years running a nonprofit anti-hunger organization gave us lots of hands-on and close-up experience with organizational growth and development. After spending a couple of years exploring possibilities, we decided to go full time. We adopted the name Participation Works for our new venture, and decided to operate as a sole proprietorship, with Linda as owner and me as her one employee. This seemed only fair, since I got to be chief executive of FOOD FOR ALL for more than a decade, with Linda reporting to me. Besides, she was more skilled as a facilitator and trainer than I was.

We wrote a business plan and created a simple logo for our business cards, stationary and marketing materials. 

Relying on referrals from friends and acquaintances who knew our work, we began to get a few jobs. We also continued our connection to the ICA and their network of training courses known as Technology of Participation (ToP). We conducted two-day courses in group facilitation methods and strategic planning, offered a couple of times a year in the Southern California region. This helped us develop a network of contacts, since most of the course participants were executives and volunteers with nonprofit service organizations.

With some skill and a bit of luck, calls for our services began to grow. This was assisted somewhat by the shift in leadership philosophy that was beginning to take hold in many nonprofit organizations, from a “top-down” to a more collaborative and participative style. Hence, our name Participation Works was not only good branding but an accurate description of an effective approach. Organizations that really put to work the methods we were teaching them found that they were getting their work done with a lot less time wasted and energy spent trying to arrive at decisions.

Our approach was simple. Neither Linda nor I were ever interested in or good at marketing ourselves. When we began our business the Internet and social marketing were just being born. We had to depend on word-of-mouth networking and referrals from anyone who knew us and our work. We were fortunate that there were not many skilled facilitators in the Inland Empire, our targeted geography. There were consultants of all kinds, but the field of facilitation was still relatively in its infancy.

I will attempt to describe the difference between a consultant and a facilitator:
·         A consultant usually has some expertise in a particular area, such as finance, fundraising, organizational development, and gathers information from people within and outside an organization, then writes up recommendations or a complete plan for the group to execute;
·         A facilitator brings only skills in group process and uses them to bring together all elements within the organization, helping them to achieve a consensus by drawing on the knowledge and experience within the organization itself.

This means that the usual result of a planning process that is facilitated is a plan where there is buy-in from all levels of an organization and where group members express “We created the plan ourselves.” Plans written up by consultants often are much more expensive and reside on a bookshelf in an office, gathering dust.

The Participation Works approach was, after receiving a call expressing interest in our services, Linda would pre-qualify a potential client on the phone by asking questions aimed at learning about the organization and what experience they had already had with strategic planning. The next step was a two-hour meeting with a representative group from the organization, in order to clarify for them how we work and design a one-and-a-half to two-day planning retreat. Often potential clients were skeptical that they could produce a real three to five-year plan that could actually be implemented. We assured them it was possible. In our first few years we were giving these assurances with less confidence than after getting feedback from clients who found that these methods worked in their organizations. Several called us back for second and third strategic planning retreats as they found that board and staff changes, as well as changes in their environments, required responsiveness and new directions on their part. A number of clients began to ask us for help in implementing their plans, so we developed quarterly and annual reviews that allowed them to keep their plans ever-fresh and current. A few nonprofits began sending their staff and board members to our group facilitation methods courses and adopting our planning methods throughout their organizations.

For the first couple of years of the first decade of the 21st century we combined five nonprofit clients with six ICA training courses. Most of these were two-day gigs with organizations varying in size from small all-volunteer groups to well-established nonprofits with staff and enough in their budgets to pay us our modest fee. Participation Works gained its reputation for doing good work for a reasonable price. Sometimes we were so reasonable that we were lucky to cover our gas and materials expenses, but always for a good cause: Some struggling nonprofit group needing to determine a new direction or re-energize itself to better serve its clientele.

Fortunately, for our own self-support needs, I turned 65 in 2002 and began collecting Social Security income and automatically received Medicare. One good selling point became that our clients got two for the price of one. We had found our niche and continued to work within it through the rest of the decade, averaging ten to fifteen new and repeat clients per year, along with conducting the three to four Technology of Participation (ToP) training courses each year. Clients ranged from small to large, startups to long-established, many different fields of service, domestic abuse prevention, animal shelters, hospitals, foundations, radio stations, a few small cities, and some county government agencies.

I made several feeble attempts at retiring during the decade, even declaring when I reached my 70th birthday that I was leaving Participation Works and Linda should find another facilitator to work with. But there always seemed to be another client that desperately needed help, and somehow Linda would convince me I was indispensable. I must admit I was always motivated by feeling needed, and the ‘life of service’ mantra I had always tried to live by kept playing in the back of my mind. I think I fully retired when I was somewhere in my early seventies. I’m not sure because since Linda retired a couple of years ago, she keeps selectively volunteering with groups that fit with the causes we believe in, and I keep agreeing to help.

And so it goes.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Adventures of Obama #9

Adventures of Obama – 9

Obama’s final State of the Union
Given in Congress – aka the Looney Bin
Biden behind him with a wistful look
Ryan beside – not a smile would he brook
Marco was there, missing his buds
Donald and Ted who were out slinging muds
Barack Obama without hesitation
Laid out a vision for our great nation
In spite of a Congress in paralysis far too long
Our President made his case – “Our Union is Strong!”

                                    Milan Hamilton
                                    January 15, 2016

(Again with a nod to Ogden Nash: Adventures of Isabel)
Isabel met an enormous bear,
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.

                          (Other Adventures of Obama parodies may be found at www.mellowmilan.blogspot.com)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Journey of Awakening 60: Yes! In My Front Yard!

It was surreal!  A Wednesday started out like most Wednesdays. Walking to the coffee shop. Trying to write. Walking back home. Turning on CNN just to see if there is any “breaking news” really breaking. The scene looks familiar. Are they talking about something happening in San Bernardino? That building on the screen looks familiar. Did they say “Waterman”? “Inland Regional Center”? Slowly it sinks in.  A mass shooting has just happened at a facility, in a conference room Linda had facilitated in several times, with people from many agencies of San Bernardino County, one where I had been at least a couple of times.

Then Linda arrived home.  She had already heard while having coffee with a friend at Olive Avenue Market.  We continued to watch the TV with minds suspended in dis-belief.  “Fourteen people dead, nineteen wounded, the shooters still on the loose.” It was still a little after Noon when we heard about a gun battle between police and inhabitants of a black SUV.  Two people shot dead. Possibility of a shooter still on the loose.  We decided to keep our regular 2 p.m. workout time at Anytime Fitness.  I had an appointment for my first of five sessions with a personal trainer. We continued the conversation about what was happening.  Everyone at the gym was also on the same topic.  My new personal trainer felt it important to make a comment, not sure why she thought I needed to hear it: “It’s not the gun – it’s the person.” I just let that slide without a comeback like “Well, maybe it’s the person with the gun.” I just didn’t feel like responding.  I still don’t. But I am sure I will.

By the time we arrived back at our apartment we noticed there was an unusual amount of activity on our block. Police cars were gathering at the curve on Center Street in front of our place. We had planned our usual Gang Happy Hour at our friend Tomi’s who lives in the Townhome complex on the next street over. As we left for our usual walk across the property on the other side of the street we were stopped by a loud shout from a policemen who let us know we were not to go in that direction.  Then we noticed that there were a number of very large SWAT type vehicles parked across the street about two buildings to the south of us.  One was parked, not in the street, but right on the grass in front of 53 North Center (we live at 80 North Center).  We decided to go to our carport and drive to Tomi’s house. We barely made it before the streets were all blocked and cordoned off.

As we sat in front of Tomi’s TV we began to piece together the story that the house at 53 North Center was where the shooters may have lived. Today it was confirmed. We learned recently that there was a virtual arsenal of weapons and bomb apparatus in the two story home.  Somehow we made it back to our apartment last night, after a circuitous route and parking our car two blocks away, then talking a police officer into allowing us to walk in to the restricted area to get home.

By this morning we awoke to a media circus just outside our front yard. Every news outlet had multiple trucks, SUVs and cars, huge satellite dishes, video cameras and microphones everywhere. The experience of watching on TV and looking out our front and back windows at the same scenes was also surreal.

Linda and I have often remarked as we watch tragedy after tragedy going on in our world how fortunate we feel for living in a small community like Redlands, feeling so safe and secure, while so many people are suffering, those living in refugee camps, those displaced by war, those dying of preventable diseases and starvation. We still do feel very lucky to be alive.
But I hope we never take our lives for granted. They can end in a heartbeat, in the flash from the barrel of an assault rifle or an automatic handgun, as the families of the fourteen who died and the nineteen who narrowly escaped death yesterday, at a workplace Holiday celebration, well know.
                                                                                    Milan Hamilton

                                                                                    December 3, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Journey of Awakening 59: How to Define a Decade

If nothing else had happened I might have named the first ten years of the 21st century “The Decade of Broadening Experiences.”

For our 25th anniversary Linda and I planned and took a two-week trip to Italy.  It was a magical journey:  Rome, the Colloseum and Sistine Chapel; the Italian Riviera, aka Cinque Terre (five lands); walking the back streets of Venice at night; getting lost in Florence looking for the David and Michelangelo’s home; Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, where we experienced a most precarious bus ride; and finally Pompeii, where we were reminded of the fragility of life and wondered what all those people were doing and thinking on their last day.

We were jazzed after that trip and began thinking of other places we wanted to experience.  This could be a decade of exposure to the cultures of the world.  Then 9/11 happened!  Afghanistan invaded!  Two years later Iraq!  Would this now become a decade defined by wars and terrorism and counter-terrorism?

There are events that intrude into the ongoingness of our lives and our planning for wonderful futures that alter our perceptions about life itself.  I guess the “Decade of Broadening Experiences” is good enough for a descriptive title for this era after all.  We have always said:  “The future is open!”

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Journey of Awakening 58: Is There Life After . . . ?

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.

Spirit Rock Retreatrev

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.

Simple Living Article_stitch

First LSL2 (3)_Fotor_Collage

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.


Harriet Prichard2(1)

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.

PW Bus Card

Monday, May 4, 2015

FOOD FOR ERA 22: “You’re Welcome!”

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.

FFA Kickoff Collage

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.

Rite Aid Charity 1.jpg

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.

Gerrard Stater Bros Collage

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.

FFT 89 Aug 4 (2)

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.

Productive Life

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

The Gap 2

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.

You're welcome!