My grandfather used to warn me with these words of wisdom, when he thought I might be stepping outside the bounds of appropriate humility: “You’re getting a little too big for your britches there, young fella’.”
As I read back over the FOOD FOR ALL annual report for our fiscal year from July 1995 to June of 1996, it appears that this was our most successful year in our eleven year history. $150,000 more raised from supermarket customers than the previous year. Additions of 75 Food 4 Less stores of the Ralphs chain in southern California; Ninety-one Waldbaum’s supermarkets in New York; Shaw’s in the Boston area; Edwards Super Foods in New Jersey.
FOOD FOR ALL received a record $1,298,380 from customers of 1371 participating supermarkets and was able to make grants of $1,216,875 to 226 U.S. and 25 overseas anti-hunger projects. Food industry support was continuing to grow with 53 companies giving $187,000 in support of our expansion (Vic Lund, then chairman of American Stores leading the campaign).
FOOD FOR ALL volunteers, numbering more than 650, helped maintain store displays, educate customers and employees, review grant applications, and conduct site visits to anti-hunger agencies.
Things are not always as they appear. I might say that things are never as they appear but that is another discussion.
I had mentioned in a previous episode of the story of FOOD FOR ALL that I had allowed to be hired three staff members whose job it was to enlarge food industry support, expand financial capacity for expansion, and increase public awareness of the need for resources to fight hunger. Instead, these three staff members decided their most important tasks were searching for a new location for our offices and getting rid of our founder. As I was busy attempting to sell our program to the food industry, my attention was taken away from what was happening within our growing organization. Linda, on the other hand, was having to deal with the day-to-day internal workings of FOOD FOR ALL. One day she finally got my attention and sat me down for a “reality check.” She had done her homework: a detailed cash-flow projection that clearly showed me that our organization was heading down a financial rat-hole. We could not afford to keep the staff level we had. And worse, the three we had hired were not doing the jobs they were hired to do.
Now what? It was clear we had an unsustainable situation. It was also clear to me that there were people who were not performing. Worse, who were undermining the organization. How do you get rid of an infection? Quickly! I called a meeting of the three staff members affected, along with Linda, the fourth staff member affected. I announced that their positions were to be eliminated, effective immediately, and that Linda would be shifted to a volunteer status, without pay. This was not well-received.
Our thirteen member board met on February 22, 1996. I presented the situation. Our December 1995 and January 1996 revenues had not met expectations. A detailed cash flow projection (the one done by Linda) revealed that we were running at a deficit and that we needed to eliminate $200,000 in expenses, which would require the elimination of four staff positions and Linda going on “unpaid volunteer status” for the remainder of the fiscal year. Attorneys had to be consulted due to three of those let go threatening a law suit.
The thirteen member FOOD FOR ALL board met again on April 25, 1996. Projections of customer contributions from stores were again under expectations due to an over-estimate (probably mine) of chains that did not come into the program. Discussions were beginning with Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger (FICAH) toward resolving duplication of efforts and the fact that retailers were becoming restless at having to support two fundraising organizations in their stores. A meeting was set for FOOD FOR ALL chairman and president with Michael Donkis, staff executive and Karl Schaffer, chairman of FICAH, at the upcoming Food Marketing Institute trade show to set guidelines for a dialogue. A FOOD FOR ALL committee was appointed to conduct the dialogue.
While all this drama was going on, FOOD FOR ALL staff and boards dealing with our grant-making were continuing to work hard training our volunteer Local Grant Advisory Boards who were charged with making recommendations for grants that would address root causes of hunger. The food security movement, which involved such projects as community gardening and community supported agricultural, and micro-loan programs focusing on women’s advancement, were being explored as significant directions for the future. FOOD FOR ALL was one of the very first supporters of food security initiatives, which has today grown into a huge movement.
Some examples of FOOD FOR ALL grants made during our fiscal year:
A $25,000 grant was given to California Healthy Cities for their work to put food security in the forefront of municipal decision-makers. The grant was to be given to a community with a specific plan for increasing access, availability, and use of affordable nutritious food in low-income neighborhoods. A three organization collaborative in the City of Berkeley received the grant.
$25,000 to ACCION International to develop a small loan program for low-income people in San Diego to start their own businesses.
$20,000 to Nueva Esperanza in Holyoke, Massachusetts, to initiate a fish farming project for new sources of food and new jobs.
$10,000 to the Watts Foundation Community Trust for the Jordan Downs Urban Garden Project to provide fresh produce, jobs, nutrition education, and business opportunities to residents of a public housing project.
FOOD FOR ALL was making a significant contribution in the movement to eliminate the scourge of persistent hunger. We were also forming new alliances within the anti-hunger movement. Forces beyond our control were beginning to take their toll. But we were not finished yet. We were not going to go down without a fight. At least I wasn’t. But don’t forget Grandpa’s words.