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!

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