Thanksgiving

A recipient at one of our food distributions recently offered to become a volunteer at the site, stating that it made him feel again like someone who was serving his country by helping others. As we approach Thanksgiving, this new volunteer and military veteran reminds us of how good it feels to allow our actions to be the expression of a grateful heart.

We who live on the central coast, where weather and terrain conspire to give us both beauty and abundance, are especially blessed. We’re small enough to work together to solve the ills that we experience. We invite you to celebrate Thanksgiving in part by helping us, along with our new volunteer, to help those in need.

Sadly, hunger is one of the ills we experience. 15% of those who live here don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. 8,000 of them are families with children. Over 6,000 are seniors. 4,000 are homeless. Many of them are hard-working in low-paying jobs to help provide the quality of life that we all enjoy.

Thanksgiving transcends all religious and political differences, bringing us together in recognition that we need one another. Each of us is hurt when someone goes hungry. Our future loses when a child doesn’t do well in school because of hunger. Medical costs go up for all when so many suffer from the consequences of poor nutrition without access to healthy food. Our fight to recover from the recession is diminished when people are unable to perform well on their jobs, or even to find jobs because the basic need for healthy food is not being met.

When you gather around your table with loved ones this year, you will know that somewhere not too far away, a family is enjoying a meal with their loved ones, too, because of you. Or a senior knows that people care, or a veteran doesn’t feel forgotten. Thank you for helping us bring joy and health to them by providing the most meaningful gift of all – friendship in the form of a healthy meal during the holidays. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Carl R. Hansen
Executive Director

Hunger Is Scary

Isn’t it interesting that the holiday season of November and December each year actually begins with Halloween? The ghosts and goblins, witches and black cats, monsters and lots of zombies, will come knocking to welcome us into the holiday spirit with a warning, “Trick or treat!” By the way, you’re supposed to act scared, but then your better nature takes over and you respond with something for which your menacing visitors will, if all works according to plan, say “Thank you! Happy Halloween!” and go merrily on their way.

I can still remember the neighbor who made wonderful cookies – served warm, by the way. OMG, I still can’t refuse a cookie. I see a cookie and I see her face faking fear, and then a warm smile with a twinkle in her eye. Too bad we can’t provide treats like homemade cookies anymore. I think it’s the candy lobby. But my point is that Halloween teaches both children and the fearful child in all of us not to fear those evil things that knock on our door, but respond to them with kindness. Behind every scary mask there is a child that hungers for love and acceptance, and a tangible affirmation of goodness. I know you’ve been surprised, as I have, by an act of kindness transforming a cold, difficult, or even hostile situation into a peaceful and uplifting one. More often than not, it’s someone else’s kind deed that transforms me.

The fight against hunger is a year-round Halloween experience. It is frightening not to be able to feed your children, or provide them with healthy food, or to sit in your small apartment as a senior not using your electricity to keep warm because your pantry is almost empty. The rest of us don’t like to know about these things because it could be us. And when we do, we slam the door in their face and tell them to get a job, or call them names, like lazy leeches, or frauds. Yep, lots of monsters out there. How much more peaceful we would be if we simply responded to them with kindness, sharing a bit of what we have, knowing that behind what scares us is a friend sent to remind us that we’re human, with the power to turn evil into good.

Remembering 9/11

On September 11, 2001 many of us were getting ready for work when the images came over the news. I was getting ready for work. I was a parish pastor then, with a full day of teaching, pastoral calls, and mid-week worship ahead. That day ended so many lives, and forever changed the lives of their loved ones. We are grateful for the memorials being observed across the country and the opportunity to honor them and dedicate ourselves again to preventing it from ever happening again.

My own personal reaction – I mean personal, not professional – was to suddenly feel very close to those around me. I found it was possible to value my loved ones more. I found that it was possible to value strangers in my midst more. I found that it was possible to experience a closeness of the heart, often unspoken but deeply felt, with people I shared life with having no more in common than meeting on the street. We shared a common sense of loss.

It feels to me now, a eleven years later, that this sense of community in the wake of 9/11 is being undermined, not by terrorists, but by divisions in our own country. Terrorism is but the extreme expression, after all, of bitter hatred. It can be fueled by lots of things, some of them real and some of them fabricated, in order to deceive and manipulate. When we tear one another down with words, and it becomes OK to attack one another’s character or intentions simply because we disagree with them, we dishonor those who died on 9/11. When we fear those whom we don’t really know, or accept without personal knowledge accusations made about others, or when we assume bad things about a person simply because we don’t know their whole story, we dishonor them and ourselves. When we refuse to offer the hand of friendship and helpfulness when we know that it could bring someone to a better place, if even for a moment, we have missed an opportunity to fight fear and division in our community.

We can’t solve the world’s problems ourselves, but we can work for kindness rather than anger. Returning to that sense of oneness, that sense of our common need for one another that 9/11 evoked within us, and extending that oneness even to a stranger, may be the best way to honor those whom we remember today.

Where were you? Feel free to share on by blogging in.

Everyday People

Have you ever heard the song, “Everyday People” by Reba McIntyre? The lyrics were written by Carol King. I have it on a CD and listen to it often. While I do, I think of and give thanks for the hundreds of volunteers that make our work possible in SLO Co. This is the chorus:

Everyday People are the ones who are making miracles
And it’s beautiful,
Everyday People lifting up the world
Like an answered prayer, I thank God they’re there
They’re the one’s who care
Everyday People…

I’m able to picture real faces as I listen to Reba singing. I see those Everyday People making miracles every day.I heard about an Everyday Person today from the mouth of a disabled person who has lost support services from the State of California when she said to one of our volunteers, “You are a lifesaver.” I shake the hands that lift up the world in SLO Co. every day when I shake the hand of a student who sorts food, a retired truck driver who drives the trucks, the people with office experience who type the letters, file the paperwork, or answer the telephones. I see a miracle in the tears of a mother who cries from deep gratitude that she will be able to feed her children a healthy, home-cooked dinner after receiving food from a volunteer who cares.

A blog is ideally a place where lots of people share their thoughts and experiences. I invite you to share what it feels like for you when you volunteer, whether at the Food Bank or some other way you serve the community. Why do you do it? What’s the best part of it? Please tell your story. It will help us all to think about our own stories as we learn from you, one of those Everyday People.

It’s time for the audit…again!

You may be surprised to learn that we can have as many as four audits per year at the Food Bank. This year we got lucky; we only had three! They are the regular financial audits we are all personally familiar with. Non-profits should have an audit every year, usually by a specialized CPA, if it collects donations from its members or the public in general. The audit certifies, in the opinion of a licensed, independent observer, that the books aren’t cooked and that what is represented in the financial statement is true and confirmed by the auditor.

The Food Bank also receives a federal audit, because any non-profit that receives more than $500,000 from the federal government, must be audited according to federal requirements. (We receive between $500,000 and $600,000 from the government.) We also have a regular, but not annual state audits from the Department of Social Services that administers the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program, and the California Association of Food Banks that administers the CalFresh (Food Stamp) Outreach Program. And of course, anytime we receive a grant, the grantor reserves the right to audit our records as they pertain to the intended purpose of the grant.

While there is a cost associated with these audits, imagine what the cost could be if audits didn’t exist? And what we sometimes don’t think about is what we learn from the audits. I have always found that audits 1. Cause me to be aware every day that our procedures are well thought through, recorded, and applied uniformly; 2. that when we do discover a gap in procedures, we learn about it and have the information to fix it; and 3. when we fix it, we have a greater trust in the ability of the audit to unearth poor practices or even fraudulent intentions. Audits are not fun. Sometimes it feels like auditors take great pleasure torturing us and catching us doing something wrong. We should welcome them as a necessary and beneficial link in building the kind of trust that is based in the verification of truth. It’s the context every society needs to function transparently and effectively. In order to show our transparency we have posted our previous audits, all you have to do is go to our website. (I hope our auditors read this.)

Carl Hansen

California Mid State Fair

July is Mid-State Fair time in SLO County. So I have to ask, “What is your favorite thing about the Fair?” If you’d like to make your response on our blog, you can share your thoughts with thousands who receive our newsletter!

As for me, the best part of the Fair is the people. It’s a huge block party. Great talent comes to entertain us, creative people share from their kitchens, gardens, and studios. Farmers display the abundance and variety of produce that our county provides, and our young neighbors inspire us with the animals they’ve raised and the goods they’ve produced. Then there’s the carnival, with its thrills and oddities. (I get queasy thinking about it because my inner ear remembers a time before I learned that carnival rides and the ocean must be avoided.)

So the Fair is about appreciating who we are and celebrating our diverse gifts. Did you know that the Food Bank receives meat from the Jr. Livestock Auction to feed hungry people? Many people who purchase animals at the Fair donate them to the Food Bank. So there’s one more reason to be like the Fair. If you’re like me, it’s hard to pick just one thing. I say it’s the people, because people make it all happen. What’s your favorite thing?

Reflections on Independence Day

One of the sources of funding for the Food Bank, as with so many non-profits, is grants from the government and private foundations. Without such grants, we would not be able to operate because the 5.5 million pounds of food that we provide to recipients is completely free. Whether directly in our distributions or through the agencies we serve. (Incidentally, all of the food we provide to agencies is also either free or highly subsidized through grants and donations.)

With the recession, grants are harder to come by, with more restrictions, and very competitive. Grants and government funding at all levels amounts to only about 10% of our budget. The balance comes from support in donations of food and money. Some of that comes from our association with Feeding America. Some of it comes from our ability to obtain low-cost produce through the Farm to Family Program of the California Association Food Banks. But most of it comes from local donations from people like you who generously give from their hard-earned resources, providing food and money to help us provide for neighbors in need.

In the end, despite the critical funds we receive from the government and private foundations, the Food Bank is continues to fight hunger because of the generosity of our local population. We raise our red, white, and blue hats to you, the people of our county who live by our legacy of a country “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” You remind us that generosity is a critical ingredient in the gift of freedom.

Believing

Recently I happened to see a documentary about a millionaire businessman who decided to live for a month as a poor person in the most impoverished area of Los Angeles. His intent was to find the agencies that truly helped people. When the month was over, he surprised those few agencies with sizable financial gifts. There was one moment that hit home for me. One homeless person struggling to get his life back said to the millionaire when his agency received a gift, “Man, you believe in us.” It made me think about how important it is to have people who believe in us, and how easy it is to lose belief in others and even ourselves.

Take a moment to remember the people who believe in you. Whether alive now or not, you would not be where you are without them. But many don’t have those people in their lives, or they have made mistakes that cause people to stop believing in them, and they forget how to believe in themselves. To improve their lives, people need to know that others value them. The human spirit requires this basic form of nurture. We might think of ourselves as “self-made” men or women because we focus on how much effort and smarts it took to us get to our level of success, whatever that may be. But in reality, we’ve all had a lot of help – family, teachers, mentors and friends who believed in us.

Believing means that we never lose hope. It means that we can see what isn’t obvious; we can see the good and the potential in people who are struggling. And, we can help them to see that in themselves. This perspective is at the heart of all charitable work, regardless of the form of charity. Giving a helping hand is an expression of trust in the person to eventually find his or her way back to a good life despite the odds. If we in non-profit work lose faith in those we serve, we’ve lost something precious, the very core of hope. Believing in people is the most important work of charity, and the best way to say thank you for those who have believed in you.

The high price of fuel…

Have you ever had to make the unhappy choice of whether to put gas in your car to go to work or feed your child a healthy breakfast? It never occurred to me when I was raising my children. It wasn’t easy financially raising my kids, but as parents we never had to make that hard choice. It’s a sad reality, though, for many in our county – the “happiest place in the nation.” 52% of the people who receive food from the Food Bank have to make that choice, according to a recent survey we participated in by STRIDE of Cal Poly. That’s over 20,000 people who are face that decision from time to time. There is so much a family needs as essentials to survive – electricity, gas, telephone, clothes – we all know what it costs. A car is not a luxury in a rural area such as ours – especially when you have children. Then there are the costs of the car – the payment, license, insurance, maintenance, etc.

We hear about the cost of gasoline coming down around the country, but it doesn’t seem to be happening locally. Meanwhile, the consequence is real suffering for many. There is no heart in the supply and demand that drives gas prices. But there is heart in our community, and we certainly see that at the Food Bank. Some of that heart-filled compassion comes from the government that represents the people, but we know many of the human services are up for grabs in this election year. Some of it comes from family and friends. But when all else fails, there is the Food Bank, the agencies and schools we partner with, and especially the generosity of our community donors who make it possible for us to provide the programs that prevent people from having to not feed their kids well in order to have the means to get to work.

The fuel costs to operate our food distribution programs remind me of the hard choices each family has to make. It also reminds me of the generosity of those – each one of you reading this blog – who make it possible for us not to have to make the choice of not keeping those programs that give a heart to the world we live in.

Hunger Free Communities

We’re in another election year, and the gloves are off.  Negativity and demonization are the order of the day.  It’s contagious.  It demeans us.  It makes politics a dirty word.  But politics is not just about winning.  Groups of people don’t have to make decisions through a process that hurts and inflames.  Why not unite in a spirit of mutual respect, a desire for the good of all, and the effort to achieve common goals?  Sound like a fantasy?  Actually, it’s happening right here in San Luis Obispo County and around the country with regard to something most of us take for granted – food.
We at the Food Bank have been privileged to be the lead agency in the formation of the San Luis Obispo County Food System Coalition, a consortium of diverse organizations and the government that are often on the opposite side of issues, now working together on a Strategic Plan to address concerns in our county with regard to how food is grown, distributed, and consumed.  Is the abundance of food production in our county accessible to our local population of all income levels?  Does it promote local agriculture and the development of a diverse farming community?  Is it environmentally sustainable and restorative?  Does food production provide a just wage to farmworkers while making a profit for farmers?  Does it make our community healthier and strengthen the social fabric that holds us together as a society?  These are the questions the Food System Coalition will grapple with over time.  It will provide regular opportunities for stakeholders and experts in their fields to grow in their understanding of one another and form mutual friendships seeking a better quality of life for all of us – especially those who have no place at the table to speak for themselves.  In our effort to build a Hunger Free Community, we just might rid ourselves of dirty politics.
If you’d like to learn more, give me a call.  It’s refreshing to do politics differently – especially in an election year!