Thursday, February 26, 2015

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 15: A Decade to Celebrate

What a time we had at the Redlands Country Club. It was September 1995, a balmy evening. A couple hundred people dressed up to celebrate ten years of growth from a two-store test of the FOOD FOR ALL supermarket customer contributions program to 1370 participating stores with the only year-round program focused on alleviating and eliminating hunger. The Country Club was chosen because two of our participating grocers happened to be members and were willing to use their influence. Paul and Dorothy Gerrard and Jack and Debbie Brown were gracious hosts and several of the Gerrards and Stater Bros. company family members attended. Our staff members did all the work on invitations, d├ęcor, menus and format for the evening. All Linda and I had to do was show up.

There were congratulations and honors to go around. Members of our Board of Directors and Advisors, volunteers, dignitaries and friends gathered for a grand celebration. Celebrity Steve Allen was engaged to provide entertainment. He and his wife Jayne Meadows had signed on to our Southern California campaign and, after learning more about our cause, he actually drove to Redlands by himself and even donated the $250 standard honorarium he would have received.

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We got our money’s worth as he held forth from the piano for an hour with his usual humor and warm presence. Honors were heaped on Paul Gerrard and Jack Brown and each made their obligatory remarks. Jack loved to tell the story of the time he ran into me at a Redlands drug store and noticed the car I was then driving. It was a 1978 Honda hatchback which had an unfortunate encounter resulting in the left side looking like it had been side-swiped by a pickup truck, which it had. In those days we couldn’t afford to have it repaired. Jack finished his comments about how Stater Bros. came to take on the FOOD FOR ALL program with: “I knew Milan was my kind of nonprofit executive. I’ve seen the car he drives.”

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FFA 10th Anniv (2)

FFA 10th Anniv (3)

So went the evening. Linda and I were surprised with a presentation of a watercolor portrait of us by Albert Landeros, a well-known Redlands artist who had designed our first display header cards. It hung in my office until we retired and is now in our “archives” since it is too large for our tiny condo.

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This was a memorable evening celebrating a decade worth remembering. The coming decade would prove just as memorable, for many different reasons.

Snapshot #1—August 1993 through July 1994:

The grant we received from Phillip Morris/Kraft was to be used primarily for marketing our program to supermarkets. The first part was used up in a feasibility study and went to pay consultants and their expenses. The second part of $75,000 was to go toward hiring a professional director of marketing. After a month-long search we settled on a person from the advertising end of the food industry. I am not going to include his name because of his brief tenure with us. I will only say that he was paid more than my salary, spent most of his time hunkered down in his office cranking out marketing documents, and spent much of our marketing budget re-designing our donation cards, which we had to discard after I let him go. Lesson learned: There are professionals and there are professionals.

FFT 93 Dec 1 (2)

In spite of spending a good part of our fiscal year that was supposed to be devoted to growing our supermarket program spinning our wheels, or worse, re-inventing them, we were able to grow our customer contribution base to $742,000 and provide grants of $680,000 to hundreds of local and to 21 international projects. This was mainly due to the dedicated volunteers and the partnering efforts of our existing retailers and food industry supporters. A highlight of the year for me personally was our September ’93 annual meeting where we elected four new board members and John Benner as Chairman.

FFT 93 Dec 3

John came to us first as an assignment by his boss at Lucky Stores. A busy Senior Vice President for Administration, I always assumed he was there to make sure we were using those customer contributions wisely. But I soon learned what kind of man he is. He immediately pitched in and gave generously of his time and always gave us kindly but clear guidance. We often had to meet at his Lucky headquarters offices and wait until he was released from one or another executive meeting that had been called at a moment’s notice. John was there for us. There were times when I might have given in to despair but for his steadying influence. His natural way of working with people and his humor kept a number of our board members going when the going got rough. His friendship was genuine, and I cherish that as I do so many of those I had the good fortune of working alongside. I had been after him for at least a couple of years to take a more active leadership role and was elated when he finally agreed to accept the chairmanship of our board. John will become a true partner in leading FOOD FOR ALL into the future, even after I am gone.

FFT 93 Dec 2

Snapshop #2—You would think I had learned my lesson by now. But after hiring and firing one “chief marketing officer” and still having the mandate of our relationship with Phillip Morris/Kraft to expand our supermarket program, I decided that ‘three is better than one’ and charged ahead like the proverbial bull in the china shop. Well, not that I made these decisions all alone, but I will acknowledge that “the buck stopped here” as my friend Frank’s hero Harry Truman was fond of saying. So I hired a marketing director, a communications director, and a fundraiser. All this occurred during our fiscal year July 1994 to June 1995.

My confidence was buoyed up by a stop I made at the Redlands downtown post office, which was my assigned task as I walked the 3/4 mile to our office every morning. There was an envelope from an accounting firm in Las Vegas. Inside was a check for $50,000. It was made payable to “The Salvation Army Food for All Program.” My heart jumped and then dropped. Must be a mistake. I decided to send the check back to the accountant with a letter asking for clarification. The next week a check arrived made payable to “FOOD FOR ALL.” This was incredible. Who would send an unsolicited donation of $50,000? Over the next few months, more checks arrived. I think we received three or four checks in similar amounts. I decided, after the shock wore off, to phone the accounting firm in Las Vegas. I don’t even remember the name of the CPA, but I do remember he informed me that “this is not the total amount you will probably receive.” I then decided that I had better make a trip to Las Vegas. It turned out that this anonymous donor, a wealthy widow, had been buying FOOD FOR ALL donation cards for a few years before she died. Her husband had been a successful real estate agent. We were to receive a portion of an estate worth about 12 million dollars. Ours might be 2-3 million. Before you begin to congratulate me on our good fortune, I should tell you that the estate was totally tied up in real estate, and real estate lawyers were getting substantial fees for administering the estate. And the real estate market was in the process of tanking. I, of course, was unaware of this at the time. So we now had three new staff persons who were going to help us implement our expansion plan.

So what did our new additions bring to the party? I suppose I could credit them with helping us plan the 10th anniversary celebration. I could say our new marketing director tried to arrange some promotions with food industry partners. I could say our fundraiser attempted to take the burden off the President in arranging our annual appeal to the food manufacturers. I could say our communications director tried to be creative in communicating our message. But what I came to see was that our three new staff members spent most of their time communicating with one another, strategizing about moving our office to a prominent location on Interstate 10, with signage to broadcast the FOOD FOR ALL name to passersby, and figuring out that it was time for our founder, Linda, to go. I, of course, was busy trying to expand our program nationwide, and was not aware of what was going on within our own organization. This is the reason I have decided to omit the names of our new hires. The people I allowed to be hired to help us, invariably, did not “get it.” From the three staff I hired in New England in the initial stages of introducing our program there, to the hiring of our marketing, PR and fundraising people, they just never got the message of what FOOD FOR ALL was all about.

FFA 94-95 Annl Report 1  FFA 94-95 Annl Report 4

But in spite of these minor issues, our fiscal year 1994-1995 saw our supermarket donation program grow to 1370 supermarkets in California, Nevada, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. Donations during this fiscal year reached $1,148,000. Our grant program allocated $455,000 in California, $60,000 in New England, and $173,000 to international self-help projects.

FFA 94-95 Annl Report 15  FFA 94-95 Annl Report 10

What a decade we had! What a ride we were on! What a privilege we were granted, to be a part of this amazing venture! Whatever the future holds, we will be there to experience and celebrate it! No matter what!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 14B: A Two Year Blast

“Mr. Hamilton, my name is Adriene, my boss is Terry Fassburg, Vice President for Corporate Relations of Frito-Lay, based in Dallas. He likes what he heard about FOOD FOR ALL and would like you to come to Dallas, at our expense, to meet with supermarket executives and anti-hunger agencies.”

We were just getting rolling in California and slowly growing our program in New England, but this seemed like an offer we couldn’t refuse. Adriene made the flight reservations and when I arrived at the airport, I discovered that I was flying first-class, which was truly a first for me. I was used to taking Southwest where you were loaded in groups and they didn’t seem to know what first-class meant. In fact, on a subsequent flight to Dallas I had to ask Adriene to please “fly me coach.” It didn’t seem right for an executive of an anti-hunger fundraising organization to be flying that high.

However, I was wined and dined for a few days on two trips to Dallas-Fort Worth. Terry Fassburg was one of those food industry executives whose heart was in the right place. A tall, thin and trim thirty-something man in a dark blue suit. We hit it off from the start, even though his assistant made all the arrangements and appointments for me. The Alpha Beta chain had stores in the area, which was a natural connection for us, and we were received warmly and got a positive response. They were willing to install our program, assuming the local nonprofits, including the big Dallas Food Bank would support it. What could go wrong? Who is going to turn down an untapped source of funds for their work of providing food for hungry people? When Adriene and I met with two staffers of the Dallas Food Bank, we received lots of questions and some tentative responses. We wondered why the Executive Director, Lorrie somebody—I’ve forgotten her name, wasn’t present.

I left my second week in Dallas feeling like we had a go-ahead to bring FOOD FOR ALL to Texas. Frito-Lay was prepared to provide major financial and promotional backing. The retailers were ready, as were other nonprofits we met with. But there was one problem, which I discovered after Linda and I had left on a driving vacation to the Midwest. It was the middle of summer. We were somewhere in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I called to check in at the FOOD FOR ALL office. “Milan, Terry Fassburg is trying to reach you. He got a call from the Food Bank Director, who is accusing him of trying to pull a fast one for his and Frito-Lay’s benefit. He wants you to call her and try to straighten things out.” I spent the next hour on the phone with Lorrie somebody, being accused, politely of course, of everything from being a scam artist to taking food out of the mouths of hungry Texans. I learned something that summer about the politics of the anti-hunger business. Lorrie somebody was not only the Executive Director of one of the largest Second Harvest food banks in the country. She had also got herself elected to the Dallas City Council. And no one was going to come into her turf without her personal permission. Terry was totally blind-sided, devastated and humiliated. FOOD FOR ALL was not going to Dallas-Fort Worth. Lorrie somebody had won. It was truly a lose-lose-lose situation. I never found out whatever happened to Lorrie somebody. She certainly did not last long in either of her positions of power. But she had poisoned the well enough to keep a good thing from happening. And we had other fields to sow. Terry Fassburg still agreed to be on our Food Industry Advisory Board, but it was not more than a year later he was transferred to a position at PepsiCo’s headquarters on the east coast and we lost touch.

There were other markets where we were exploring expansion possibilities. Phoenix was one where we had some connections. Rich Blakley’s father was a retired lawyer who lived there and had connections with retail grocers. Ross Blakley hosted me on a couple of trips and introduced me to his contacts. We received interest but no commitments. And we were in the midst of a major campaign in Southern California. We needed to focus more attention there.

The two years from August 1991 to June of 1993 contain a swirl of activity that reads like a journal of highlights--from our newsletters:

August ’91--Independent supermarkets emphasis; World Food Day promotions in all three regions; new staff members Teresa Lingafelter and Alma Vierich hired; 8 new VISTA volunteers positions approved; FOOD FOR ALL chapters started.

FFT 91 Aug 1  FFT 91 Aug 6

November ’91—September gathering of 13 international NGOs; Gelson’s of LA added 20 more stores; 6th annual meeting with 40 attending; Orange County Hunger Coalition facilitated by FOOD FOR ALL; new board members Barry Bauchwitz of food industry and Betty Elliott from Congressman Brown’s office; Neill Richards joins staff as east coast VP; Southern California Awareness Campaign gains momentum; promotions in stores with Buena Vista Winery, KABC LA and KSGN Riverside.

FFT 91 Nov 1  FFT 91 Nov 3

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May ’92—Waldbaum’s Foodmart food show and presentation to President Ken Abrahams for his company’s passing the half-million dollar mark in customer contributions; decision to designate May store donations to victims of violence following the Rodney King verdict and riots, which happened right in the middle of our Southern California expansion campaign; executives of Kraft General Foods, Chiquita, and Certified Grocers join our Food Industry Advisors; Bill Chandler, Mayor Tom Bradley’s press secretary, joins our Public Relations Board; TV spots produced featuring actress Beverly Archer of Major Dad TV show and Harry Blackstone, world-renowned Magician and Redlands resident (Harry actually passed a wand through the center of an inflated balloon during the shoot); growing food industry support due to letter campaign headed by Larry Del Santo, Chairman of Lucky Stores; volunteer support continues to grow through formation of chapters and addition of Store Ambassadors; formation of a volunteer Connecticut FOOD FOR ALL Council; formation of a domestic hunger funding task force and survey of our Local Grant Boards and agencies to determine root causes of hunger.

FFT 92 May 1  FFT 92 May 2

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November ’92—Albertson’s added 108 Southern California stores, Smith’s Food & Drug 16, Petrini’s 18 in the San Francisco Bay Area, Big Y in New England 25 new stores (due to our original supporter Dan Lescoe becoming VP of Marketing for Big Y); presented $100,000 to 43 agencies in response to victims of the April LA riots, attended by supermarket executives and Mayor Tom Bradley, as well as Kellogg’s Company (the one I met with early on and came away with 2 boxes of cereal) which sponsored a full-page ad in the LA Times in support of FOOD FOR ALL.; trade show presence at Food Marketing Institute (FMI) annual show in Chicago, California Grocers Convention (CGA) in San Diego, and Certified Grocers (CERGRO) in Long Beach; nationwide study for expansion feasibility funded by Phillip Morris and Kraft; new Board members Alan Moore of Kraft, Stan Thompson of The Thompson Company, and Kent Halkett of international law firm Sidley & Austin; began to advertise for a Marketing Director and store merchandisers; Store Ambassador campaign in full force; held a Southern California volunteer conference; second year of our VISTA grant; accounting software donated by SBT Company; pushed support for Congressman Tony Hall’s “hunger-free communities” initiative; $1.00 a week idea presented by a volunteer, claimed it would produce $6 million to fight hunger in our participating supermarkets; payroll donations for FOOD FOR ALL become a reality.

FFT 92 Nov 1  FFT 92 Nov 3

February ’93—Kraft Holiday promotion netted $40,000 from “A Single Person Can Make A Difference” tag line; Kraft promotion in Northern California with Lucky and Nob Hill Foods netted $28,000; Our Saviour Center of El Monte received the 1992 Nancy Chandler $5,000 award grant; high-lighted top ten stores, included Ralphs at La Brea & 3rd in LA; received the 2nd donated vehicle from board member and husband Georgianna and George Burney (became known as the FOOD FOR ALL McBurney-mobiles); honored unsung heroes of FOOD FOR ALL Lillick & Charles law firm of San Francisco, Grey Advertising, Italia Gal for TV spots, Impulse Broadcast Systems for Ralphs radio time, Evans, Hardy & Young, Inc. for header card design and ads for promotions, Larry Del Santo, Lucky Chairman for heading up the annual appeal to the food industry, along with Byron Allumbaugh of Ralphs, Roger Hughes of Hughes Markets, and Everett Dingwell of Certified Grocers, McCracken Brooks of Minneapolis, as pro bono ad agency to develop our new logo and brand identity, Eric Lesin, Ralphs 39 Ambassador (his daughter got him involved and he later became a FFA Board member; Regional Councils formed in New England and Northern California; VISTA volunteers Tom Whalen (2nd year-Tom will become a full-time merchandiser for FOOD FOR ALL), Michelle Delehanty of San Diego, and Jill Walker-Smith (who will become a life-long friend); Holiday promotions (“Giving Tree”) ideas from volunteers; Community Bank of Redlands sells FOOD FOR ALL cards at teller windows; Waldbaum’s Foodmart sells “Santa Bucks” at their check stands; Ev Foster is honored as the “ultimate FOOD FOR ALL volunteer” for developing the computer programs for all FOOD FOR ALL functions.

FFT 93 Feb 1  FFT 93 Feb 4

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June ’93—Pledge drive created (“Buy FOOD FOR ALL every time you shop”); new look for FOOD FOR ALL designed by McCracken Brooks, our pro bono ad agency; Nestle USA prints a million FOOD FOR ALL cards; celebrities join FOOD FOR ALL honorary campaign committee (Dixie Carter, Mel Harris of Thirty Something, Robert Sean Leonard, Julianne Phillips, Beverly Archer, Ross Becker, Bill Kinison, Steve Allen, Audrey Meadows, Vlade Divacs and A. C. Green of the LA Lakers, Swoozie Kurtz, Lesley Ann Warren, Naomi Judd; FOOD FOR ALL month declared by San Diego and Orange County Boards of Supervisors.

FFT 93 June 1  FFT 93 June 2

FFT 93 June 3

As we entered the two year period ending with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of FOOD FOR ALL, we were still hopeful that this “idea whose time has come” would catch the imagination of the supermarket industry and its vast array of growers, manufacturers, and suppliers. We were like the proverbial rubber tree plant who had high hopes. We had not given in to the naysayers by any means. But we knew we had a mountain to climb and an obstacle course to run. We had no idea just how difficult the climb would be, given what was going on in the world we had entered.

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The Food Industry Trade Shows: Milan at GGA & Milo at FMI

I am reminded of a conversation I had at a food industry banquet when I attended the Chicago FMI convention and trade show, where we were invited to exhibit. I happened to sit at a table with some food industry executives. Next to me was a gentleman who identified himself as a lobbyist for a major food company. I was explaining to him why we were at this convention and our hope for expansion and adoption by the entire industry. He listened with evident interest to what I was telling him. After listening to a performance by Kenny Rogers, having had a few glasses of wine and dessert, he leaned over as we were getting ready to depart and said: “I applaud you for what you are trying to do, but I must tell you, you have no idea how many forces there are that are opposed to everything you stand for.”

It took a few more years for his comment to sink in. I have never forgotten that encounter.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 14: I Can’t Believe This All Happened

“How do you feel about receiving money from a company that sells tobacco products?”

I had barely sat down in this meeting with the Corporate Contributions Director of Phillip Morris Companies, her assistant director, and a consultant they hired to help them on funding strategies. I took my time responding: “Truthfully, I’m not sure and will have to do some talking with our board and grassroots supporters before I can answer that question.” Compounding the decision I had to make was my own 35 year history as a smoker, and then less than 10 years as a recovering nicotine addict. This meeting would prove to be a watershed event in the FOOD FOR ALL journey. It came about because of our growing support among food manufacturing corporations, attention we were attracting among retailer supermarket companies, and the number of times we were bumping into the Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger (FICAH), which conducted a Holiday seasonal fundraiser alongside our year-round program at grocers’ check stands.

It turns out that Phillip Morris did not only sell cigarettes. It also owned Kraft General Foods and a number of other food companies, and was attempting to re-brand itself in the public’s perception. At a second meeting, after I had done my consulting with our Boards and a sampling of our stakeholders, having received responses running from “This could be a problem with our hunger activist supporters” to “Take the money and run,” I decided that there was no way to untangle Phillip Morris from food products, at least in the mind of supermarket operators. So I said to Richard Brown, newly appointed as Director of Corporate Contributions of PM: “We are looking for substantial support over the next three years to fund our expansion nation-wide.”

“How much would be required?” was his immediate response.

“About two million dollars” I spat out without hesitation.

“Well, our company is certainly capable of that—not that we are going to do it.”

FFT 92 Nov 2 (2)

The result of these meetings was a commitment from Phillip Morris Companies for a grant of $75,000 to fund a feasibility study, with a further promise of support, up $150,000, perhaps more, pending a positive result of the study. Not exactly what I had in mind. We already had our expansion plan. To further muck things up, much of the initial grant had to go to a consultant of their choosing to conduct the study. This would put us in a holding pattern for almost a year while Bill Leider, our newly acquired planning consultant, interviewed a smattering of food industry executives, hunger agency folk, and our stakeholders. It involved a couple of trips Bill and I made, one to Washington, DC.

FFT 93 Dec 1 (2)

Bill Leider was an interesting man, short, about 5’1” I guessed. His office was in Marina del Rey, so I assumed he must have been very successful. He was active in a prominent Vietnam Veterans organization, and took me to the Vietnam Memorial while we were in Washington. As a former protester against the Vietnam War in my post-seminary days, this was an emotional experience for me, seeing all those tens of thousands of names sacrificed for us. We also stopped in at the Lincoln Memorial and as we were leaving he stopped me. “Look down at your feet,” he said. “The stone you are standing on is the one Martin Luther King was standing on for his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.” It was one of those moments my mind was stopped and I couldn’t speak. I just thanked him.

The culmination of Bill’s work for us, following his written report, was a three-day strategic planning retreat with about 30 from our Board of Directors, representatives of our Advisory Boards, and a number of stakeholders. It was paid for by Phillip Morris, attended by Richard Brown and PM’s consultant, was facilitated by two of our old ICA colleagues, John Oyler from our Funds Distributions Advisory Board and Gordon Harper, now living in Seattle, and resulted in a five-year strategic plan for FOOD FOR ALL expanding into several more cities. There were many things I came to appreciate about our relationship with Bill Leider, and with Richard Brown. But I have to say that we could have used Phillip Morris Company’s grant money a lot more effectively had they just funded our expansion plan and gave us a grant to implement it. We were ready and events were moving fast in the food industry and in to charitable giving world.

Even so, when I look back through the quarterly newsletters that were produced, and the annual reports for the years from August of 1991 to July 1993, I find myself in a state of awe. This period in the FOOD FOR ALL journey unfolded as though it was part of a mysterious, inexplicable happening that I was not even part of, and yet I knew I was in the midst of.

FFA 92-93 Annl Report 3

Our annual report for fiscal year 1992-93 indicated that we had 1200 supermarkets in four states on two coasts participating, customer contributions in this “first of a kind” program reached $850,000 and had now surpassed $4 million since its beginning in 2 supermarkets in 1986. Our grant programs were aimed at four strategies to address hunger: alleviating basic needs, fostering self-reliance, community-based organizations working on root causes of hunger, promoting grassroots educating and involvement in hunger issues. 330 grants were made totaling $523,152 aimed at domestic hunger, and $197,826 to 22 sustainable development projects, primarily in Asia, Africa, and South and Central America.

FFA 92-93 Annl Report 2

Corporate support continued to grow, now numbering 45 food companies, some of them engaging in special promotions with us and participating supermarkets. Eight companies and individuals were donating goods and services. Our Board of Directors numbered 14, with a like number on the Food Industry Advisory Board and Funds Distribution Advisory Board. All of this was staffed by 8 persons in our national office in Redlands, regional one-person offices in Southern California, Northern California, New England, and 6 VISTA (domestic Peace Corps) volunteers made possible by a grant.

These two years leading up to FOOD FOR ALL’s tenth year are so packed with accomplishments and set-backs, elation and deflation, that I will reserve my attempt to describe and illuminate this period in the next installment of this amazing story. Don’t’ touch that dial!