Tuesday, November 11, 2014

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 9: Building the Infrastructure

By the end of 1987 the FOOD FOR ALL "supermarket customer contribution program to help end hunger" (one of my elevator speeches to try to describe what we were about) had indeed been launched in 36 Waldbaum's Food Mart stores in Connecticut and was averaging over two thousand dollars a week, thanks to the enthusiastic reception by the company's staff, store employees and customers. I don't remember how many trips I made to Hartford during the months from November to the summer of 1988, but we were able to grant almost $25,000 to seventeen local anti-hunger agencies by the end of our fiscal year. This in addition to the 120 local grants totaling $169,000 throughout southern California, and $65,000 to 10 international development programs.

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How did we do it? I had to go back to our published annual report for fiscal year 1987-88 and was filled with humble pride at the unexplainable happening that was revealed there. In 238 participating supermarkets, customers had contributed $367,466. We had received more than $125,000 in seed grants from 16 foundations, corporations and religious organizations, as well as donated services equal to nearly $20,000. I was under no illusion that this was due in any significant measure to what a smart guy I was, or how many long hours I had put in to get this project moving. I did note, however, that one of the corporate contributions was a $5,000 grant from the General Mills Foundation, which I am willing to acknowledge as partly a result of my visit.

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I am now quoting from the Message from the President (me) column in that annual report:

All of us concerned about hunger have been keenly aware that each year growing numbers of people are in need of emergency food assistance, many of them women and children and many of them employed, but at low paying jobs. At the same time, organizations that assist those needing help have suffered severe cutbacks in food donations and financial support. This is evidence of a radical shift of responsibility for solving major problems such as hunger, lack of housing, and unemployment from the federal to the local community level. Yet the resources to deal with these problems have not been generated; the local community will has not been mobilized; the effective strategies have not been devised to meet this challenge.

This was the context for how we developed the FOOD FOR ALL program from the beginning. Working with our eight member board of directors, our nine member Food Industry Advisory Board, our nine member Funds Distribution Advisory Board, and our small and under-paid staff of four (plus me, who got to be President in lieu of a salary), we went back to our years with the Institute of Cultural Affairs where we developed and implemented methods of grassroots participation. Out of this combination of taking an "idea whose time had come," some retail grocers willing to take a chance, and a growing network of volunteers captivated by the vision of a hunger-free future, came the three strategies that would characterize FOOD FOR ALL for the next decade. Again, I turn to our above-mentioned annual report to jog my memory.

1) Generating new financial resources to be distributed strategically

This of course was the year-round program of check stand contributions that gave grocery shoppers the chance to give a small donation every time they buy food for their families. We determined from the beginning that only 10% of shopper contributions would go for maintaining the organization, and that of the 90% going to grants, three-fourths would go to local programs in the area where they were contributed, and one-fourth would go to long-term solutions to hunger internationally. The way local grants were made was by what were known as Local Grant Advisory Boards, made up of volunteers from the local areas willing to be trained to review grant applications, make site visits to local applicants and make recommendations to FOOD FOR ALL's board. International grants were made through a similar process by our Funds Distribution Advisory Board.

During the 1987-88 fiscal year there were fourteen Local Grant Advisory Boards in Southern California and three in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

2) Increasing grassroots involvement in ending hunger

This was in many ways the heart of the FOOD FOR ALL program. Before we conducted the first test in a supermarket, we operated with the conviction that it would be critical to involve all sorts of grassroots folk in all aspects, from deciding how money was to be applied to the hunger issue to sustaining the program at the "point of sale." We developed several sub-strategies to keep FOOD FOR ALL front and center in people's minds.

Through FOOD FOR ALL'S Adopt-A-Store program, community organizations commit to working with nearby stores to increase customer participation. Adopters now include religious organizations, corporation employee groups, service clubs, junior and senior high student groups, families and friends, and small businesses. (FFA 1987-88 annual report)

Consumer education was also important, so a speakers' bureau offered an educational program which graphically depicted how hunger affects everyone and attempted to motivate people with ideas of how they could take individual and group action, with FOOD FOR ALL as our example of a simple way anyone could participate. Over time we would involve hundreds, perhaps thousands of volunteers as "store ambassadors," customers and sometimes employees at each supermarket, who would do periodic simple promotions with a table inside or outside the store entrance and who would become our watchers of displays, reporters of any issues that needed to be addressed at "their store," and educators of customers, store managers and employees about FOOD FOR ALL.

3) Building consensus for action

FOOD FOR ALL finds out what local people think about hunger and its solutions through . . . an ongoing Think Tank process which begins when FOOD FOR ALL is introduced in a new area. The Think Tanks involve a broad range of people concerned about hunger in a strategic planning process through which participants articulate their vision of a hunger-free society, identify current barriers, determine new directions, and recommend funding strategies for the coming year. (FFA 1987-88 annual report)

These events provided us with the guidance that made decisions about applying FOOD FOR ALL grants toward more than "band-aid" short-term approaches. We realized early on that it is more difficult to give money away than to raise it. One political campaign should make that crystal clear to anyone who "has ears to hear." The introductory Think Tank was followed by an annual review and update to the strategies and funding priorities for that area.


A third component of the Consensus for Action program is a regional conference focused on "sharing models of effective local action." (FFA 1987-88 annual report)

As of the end of June, 14 Think Tanks on hunger had been held in southern California. Three were already scheduled for New England, and plans for a series in northern California, where we were planning to expand during the coming year. We were fortunate that we had the ongoing connection with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA), the organization Linda and I and Georgianna McBurney had been with for many years. The ICA provided facilitators, usually pro bono, for many of these events. Linda was the staff person in charge of all the volunteer programs of FOOD FOR ALL, with an enormous number of hours of assistance from Georgianna and Helen Anderson, a retired school teacher in Orange County, who spent the next decade as a full-time FOOD FOR ALL volunteer. There are others I could mention, and some I omit because of faulty memory. Diane Adams comes to mind. Diane, a Redlands housewife and mother, was a miracle-worker for FOOD FOR ALL's World Food Day events, coordinating hundreds of volunteers in a single day promotional event at all of our participating stores, as well as our speakers' bureau presentations.

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Jenny Foster, above right, and Diane Adams below right

I can't leave this episode in the FOOD FOR ALL story without paying tribute to its founder, Executive Vice President and my wife and life partner, Linda, who managed virtually everything aside from board of directors recruitment and development and marketing to the food industry, which was my assigned area. Linda also wrote almost all of the grant applications for seed money to support the organization during this critical phase. Along with Linda, our staff during this time included Jenny Foster, office manager, who would be with us for the next 10 years and continue on even after Linda and I left the organization. Jenny brought so much to making things work, and also got us an indispensable asset, her husband Ev, who was a systems administrator for San Bernardino County, and who single-handedly designed the financial tracking and accounting system for the store contributions coming in from supermarkets. To round out our small staff, Norma Stumreiter, now deceased, served as our bookkeeper for a couple of years, and Lance Ternasky, a friend and local educator, was a part-time program coordinator.

FOOD FOR ALL was now on the way to a feast and famine future. I can't wait to continue the story.

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