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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Friday, April 24, 2015

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 21: What Ever Happened to FOOD FOR ALL?

After the farewell party in February 1998, Linda and I decided it was time to step away from involvement in the new FICAH/FOOD FOR ALL organization, take some time to heal from a year of trying unsuccessfully to mesh our grassroots, participatory culture with the new parent organization’s top-down corporate mentality, and explore options for our next phase. It quickly became obvious to us that Michael did not welcome any advice from us, and that the “old” FICAH officers had no interest in continuing the volunteer structures we had spent years developing. We actually heard of a quote from one of them that they were viewing our merger as an acquisition. In other words, a “take-over.” They wanted our name, which they officially adopted for all their consumer programs four years later. After 9-11 the name “crusade” became problematic, although they had already been thinking about the name change.

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Michael Donkis was now in charge as CEO. Within a few months the FOOD FOR ALL office was moved from Redlands to a warehouse near the Ontario airport, more convenient for Michael’s commuting from his Melrose Avenue apartment and his flights to the FICAH office in Washington, DC. I have to give Michael some credit. He tried to honor his firm promise that FOOD FOR ALL’s year-round program would continue and hopefully be adopted by more retailers. For the next couple of years it did actually expand on the east coast, largely due to the FOOD FOR ALL staff members Michael kept on to handle the installation and merchandising tasks. But he simply was not able to manage the volunteer grant boards, the store ambassadors, the ongoing education and training involved in sustaining the organization as before the merger. That was neither his expertise nor his interest. I must add that had Linda and I stayed and I worked on my own ego issues as “ex-CEO,” the new organization was in for a rocky few years in any case.

Within four years some decisions of Michael’s would put the organization’s capacity to honor international grants at risk. He spent about a quarter of a million dollars on a consulting firm to develop a new financial system for tracking the donations coming from retailers and the grants going out to local agencies, only to abandon the project after two years and return to the system Jenny Foster’s husband, Ev, had set up in our first two years. This resulted in the organization’s board having to delay the allocation of international grants for about a year. I suspect this may have been part of the reason that Michael left about three years after we did. Shortly after this FICAH hired an ex-food industry lobbyist and marketing person, Denis Zegar, as CEO, closed the Ontario office, and let the staff go, except for one former food industry marketing person working out of his home. This left the organization with a total of four staff.

The good news is the FOOD FOR ALL program was still appealing to the food industry due to downsizing the organization and the dedication of the volunteer board of directors who hung in there through some rough years. John Benner, formerly chairman of FOOD FOR ALL, as treasurer until 2002, helped get the organization back on track. The other good news is that the retail supermarket operators now became the “deciders” of where the grant funds would go, replacing the small army of local grant boards we had recruited and trained. I say good news because even today we hear about these funds going to many of the local projects we funded early on. FICAH continued to raise money from the food industry to support the international self-help projects; and FOOD FOR ALL grants from the 10,000 supermarkets eventually carrying the year-round and holiday programs continued to support the local anti-hunger agencies.

In 2002 I requested an annual report, after hearing virtually nothing from the organization for four years. I received a cordial letter from Tom Moran, Manager of Administrative Services of Food for All: Self-Help Solutions to End Hunger. It was accompanied by an annual report, the first I had seen since we left. I was pleased to see that many of the retail supermarket chains we had approached were now listed as FOOD FOR ALL participants. I was also glad that FOOD FOR ALL was now in 41 states and the District of Columbia, that $2 million annually was now being provided in grants, and that $35 million had been invested in self-help anti-hunger projects in the United Stated and worldwide.

My next inquiry into where FOOD FOR ALL had gone since 1998 was in March of 2015, as I was preparing to write this blog entry. Imagine my surprise! FOOD FOR ALL has been renamed ‘Making Change.’ Dennis Zegar, then CEO of FOOD FOR ALL, in 2012, recommended it to the board, after determining that FOOD FOR ALL had grown beyond addressing hunger, and obtained the pro bono services of a global advertising firm, which came up with the new name. Mr. Zegar stated it this way: “We think this new brand identity will enable us to basically explore any program without being tied to food.” The board officially made the change in February 2013.

Denis Zegar died as a result of a bicycle racing accident in August 2014. The chairman of the newly named organization stated: “We are working to establish a protocol for the organization moving forward. In the meantime there will be no interruption in the programs we offer to our retail partners.”

After learning about the new name and Mr. Zegar’s death, I researched the history of FICAH/FOOD FOR ALL as it is found in about 45 pages of articles in Supermarket News, the primary news publication of the supermarket industry, stretching from August of 1997 to August of 2014. I found myself being proud of what we began back in 1985. I could actually see the vision we had of getting the entire food industry behind the hunger issue had come to fruition, at least in part. It had to come about the way it did, with the industry in charge. But the original mission of supporting self-help solutions and getting at root causes of hunger remained in the hearts and minds of at least some of the industry leaders.

By the year 2000, fifteen years from the founding of both FICAH and FOOD FOR ALL, almost all of the $3.5 million was coming from customer donations at check stands. The organization was struggling to get food industry corporations to support its efforts. Our old friend/enemy “mergers and acquisitions” within the industry was still a major factor. The next year, after 9-11, there was a bit of a resurgence of industry support. And by the end of 2004 six thousand supermarkets were participating in either the year-round or seasonal FOOD FOR ALL programs.


      The Holiday Program                    The Year-Round Program

In a special October 2004 edition of Supermarket News, ‘FOOD FOR ALL AT 20,’ Jack Brown of Stater Bros. was interviewed for one of the feature stories. He actually included the story he loved to tell about encountering us in our beat-up old Honda Accord, which convinced him to support FOOD FOR ALL, back in 1990. Again my facts and his story of being the first major chain to participate don’t quite jibe. Also his version of how we came to obtain the UPC bar codes (his was: he got them for us; mine: Bill Christy our board member). At any rate Jack was quoted as saying he was “proud of the Hamiltons and of the late Paul Gerrard who had the courage to start it in his store.” I am reasonably certain none of the readers of his article, including Jack, will be reading my story.

Those of us who founded the original FOOD FOR ALL organization and program were variously described in this issue of Supermarket News. We were “community activists,” “dreamers,” “visionaries.” My favorite, I guess, is “a group of visionaries who believed the food industry could make a difference in the lives of people throughout the world.” (My only amendment would be that we believed that every day shoppers could make a difference by making a small donation every time they shopped).

Bob Emmons, who was the first chairman of the combined FICAH/FOOD FOR ALL organization in 1997, came close when he was quoted in this issue:

Though both groups were formed in 1985, and both sought to support charities that championed self-sufficiency for the less fortunate, FICAH and Food For All prior to their merger had some significant differences. The former was funded primarily through corporate contributions of founding grocery distributor companies and directed its donations largely overseas; the latter raised the majority of its money from consumer contributions at retail stores in support of local charities.

Paul Gerrard died in May of 2004. I attended his memorial at First Baptist in Redlands and spoke briefly of our friendship and his support. Jack and Debbie Brown were there as well as a number of California supermarket operators.

A Supermarket News article in November 2007 noted that, according to CEO Denis Zegar, FOOD FOR ALL revenues had reached more than $5 million the previous fiscal year. The number of retail participating stores now numbered 8,000. Fifty-three million dollars had been raised for anti-hunger programs since 1985. A January 2013 article, published just before the name change to ‘Making Change,’ reported that the total raised since the founding of FOOD FOR ALL was $73 million. And there were now 10,000 participating retail outlets.

So for nearly thirty years, through earthquakes, riots, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, wars, and drastic economic downturns, FOOD FOR ALL has continued to grow and hold at least some of its original vision of addressing the causes as well as the effects of hunger. It even managed to weather the many food industry mergers and consolidations over the years. The unfortunate bi-product of the point-of-purchase program being controlled by the retailers themselves was that the international grants have dwindled to less than $100,000 in total grants each year. And it will have to be seen whether the name change to ‘Making Change’ will carry the organization for another three decades. The latest literature from the organization indicates that it has over the past few years been turned into a marketing program for retailers and suppliers and therefore lost much of its original power.

In 1985 an organization was founded because of an idea of a supermarket shopper, who happened to be married to me. In 1986 a supermarket operator took a chance because he looked at her idea and said: “This could end hunger.” In 1987 a marketing VP of a supermarket chain said: “We’ll be happy to participate in your pilot project.” In 1988 another VP of a supermarket chain on the east coast said: “I’ve been waiting for you to call.” In 1989 a VP of a small northern California chain said: “We’ll install your program in our stores.” I don’t remember much after that. So you can rely on all the previous episodes I have written as true or the rantings of a deluded visionary.

FFA Office MH (2)  

The next and last chapter of my story will be an attempt to articulate the real legacy of FOOD FOR ALL.

Friday, April 17, 2015

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 20: Celebrate!

Back from India and invited to a party—for us! Our FOOD FOR ALL board and staff planned a celebration to give Linda and me a proper send-off. We showed up at the Pomona Valley Mining Company restaurant where we had held a few of our annual meetings over the past decade. We were surprised and delighted that people representing our entire history with FOOD FOR ALL were there for a dinner and time to remember and honor what was accomplished. People who had supported us from the very beginning: Paul and Dorothy Gerrard, our original grocer; board members John and Linda Benner, Lynda Trelut who flew down from Gilroy, Georgianna McBurney, Helen Anderson, Bill Christy. FOOD FOR ALL and VISTA volunteers, former staff members like Sing Baker who drove up from San Diego to join us.

FFA Farewell Dinner

FFA People 2

Paul and Dorothy Gerrard, First FOOD FOR ALL grocer


L-R top; L-R bottom: Georgianna, Bill, Helen, Lynda, John

Michael Donkis, our new CEO, was not there, nor were any of our newly acquired FICAH board members. We did not expect them to be. This was obviously a party to bring a proper ending to what FOOD FOR ALL was and not so much a looking forward to what it was to become. It was entirely appropriate and just fine with us. We had always been an organization that celebrated, both the victories and the set-backs. So we enjoyed the chance to say farewell and listen to all the nice things people had to say about us and say, Thank you!”


It was most heartwarming to receive this massive twelve-and-a-half pound album of letters (I weighed it) from the hundreds of nonprofit organizations across the country and world, and people who could not be present for the send-off party, but who wrote letters of appreciation.

FFA Reflection 4

A wall representing the history of FOOD FOR ALL was put up and our board officers, Georgianna McBurney, Lynda Trelut, Helen Anderson, and John Benner led the whole gathering to reflect together on the achievements of the past decade plus. We built FOOD FOR ALL as a “learning organization” so it was important to be sure people had the chance to say what important lessons could be passed on to those who would carry the banner into the future.



Linda and I left the party without a clue where life would take us next. But we left without any regrets, very few “if onlys and what ifs,” and lots of wonder-filled memories. There are of course memories of the successes, and the more painful ones of the failures. But those that are really important to us are of the “people of FOOD FOR ALL.”

Milan 51st BD  Xmas 87 (2)

Staff celebrations at the office and Sue Hammond’s home

Our staff, many of whom would carry on for several years after our tenure, especially Jenny Foster, our original office manager, and our dedicated merchandising people, Alma Vierich, Tom Whalen, and Frank Knutson. Michael even re-hired Neill Richards after he had ordered me to let him go, when he discovered that he could not handle the east coast without Neill’s help.


Clockwise: Lance Ternasky, Scott Christiansen, Sing Baker, Jenny Foster & Diane Adams, Theresa Lingafelter 


Clockwise:  Ed Drummond, Neill Richards, Leslie Temanson, Linda Hamilton; Alma Vierich; Alma & Frank Knutson; Lisa Dewey; Staff Retreat; Neill Richards & Tom Whalen;

FOOD FOR ALL FAREWELL Vista VolunteersOur Americorps VISTA Volunteer Staff

Of course, our board members, directors and advisory boards, who guided us with wise counsel and hundreds of hours of service through the years.

FFA Board at Farewell

FOOD FOR ALL Board Members Attending the Send-Off Party


Funds Distribution Advisory Board Members, including back left Darryl Brock and Mike Hayes (FFA Board Members), Gianna Hochstein, Neill Richards, Aaron Zerah, Jeanine Faria, Georgianna McBurney (FFA Board Member)

FFT 89 Aug 4 (2)

John Oyler of ICA gave many hours on our Funds Distribution Board and facilitated our strategic plan for expansion



Two of our founding board members could not be there: Rich Blakley, who got his church behind us early on; and Milo Lacy, retired supermarket manager who always told us the grocers would never adopt our idea.


Rich Blakley at FOOD FOR ALL Opening & Milo Lacy at Trade Show

John Benner will continue on as treasurer of the newly merged organization. Helen Anderson would remain on the board for another three years.


The Store Ambassadors, local FOOD FOR ALL Councils, local grant boards, and promotional supporters who kept our message in front of shoppers.

FOOD FOR ALL Volunteers2

But most of all, the hundreds of people running creative nonprofits in local communities across the country: food banks and pantries, homeless shelters, community gardens, community supported agriculture programs; and the international NGO agencies working in the most impoverished villages to help local people find their own solutions.



FOOD FOR ALL Gtrants 3

In the last year of our leadership of FOOD FOR ALL we changed the name of the newsletter to Catalyst because we saw the purpose and effect of our grant-making to be catalyzing innovative solutions to the issue of hunger. We left the organization in the hands of those we hoped had caught some of the vision we had of a grassroots and comprehensive approach to this important cause.

History will have to be the judge of how well we had done our work.