“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.