Gordy Harper and Ray Booth share the story of how this nonprofit got started and now feeds 3,500 families monthly.
Food for Families
Lynchburg is a city with a population of about 80,200 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016) and a poverty rate of 23.1%. That is about 12% above the state and 9% above the national poverty rate. The zip code that Park View is located in and serves is one of the poorest zip codes in all of Virginia.
The truth is that the majority of the people we serve are hardworking and honest individuals who have experienced circumstances that have brought them to a place of financial insecurity. Others have been raised in generational poverty and have never been taught another way of life. That is why we are working to empower and educate individuals to recognize their potential and live the full lives they were created for.
Our Food for Families program provides supplemental groceries on a monthly basis at no cost to families that are food insecure. We are a neighbor choice pantry facility, allowing our neighbors to take an active part in the shopping experience by choosing from the products we provide. Items available to choose from include fresh produce, frozen meats, baked goods, dairy products, eggs and much more.
We also provide choice clothing and personal hygiene items
To empower and educate individuals and families in order to be freed from a life of poverty and enter into a life of purpose and fulfillment.
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Greetings to this episode of The Nonprofit Exchange. We have two guests today. They both work in the same charity. It’s called Food for Families. I was down there yesterday hearing some stories. There was a lunch gathering for a bunch of charities that work out of the same building. I have been talking to these guys for a while and said that we needed to tell their story because people have a lot of ideas, and putting some traction to ideas is pretty important. I learn from people who have lessons to teach, but I also learn from people who have life lessons to teach through stories. I am going to ask these two gentlemen to introduce themselves, a little bit about their background, and then we will circle around and talk about their foundation. Ray Booth, who are you?
Ray Booth: I’m one of the rare breeds. I was born here, and I’ll die here. I’ll never live anywhere else.
Hugh: We are in Lynchburg, Virginia by the way.
Ray: It’s a great place. Come join us. I felt a calling early in my life to be an engineer, and I was a simple engineer graduate. After I got out of college, I felt called to ministry and considered that quite a bit. I think I’d do best in public service. I spent my whole working life in public service, first with the state government, then 25 years with the city as Director of Public Works. I have impacted this community. Everywhere I drive, I see my impacts and construction all the time. After I retired, I went to work with my construction company. I did more private/public partnerships here in Virginia in many of the cities and counties throughout Virginia. I retired from that, and now I am a consultant and real estate broker and am still trying to impact the community for the better.
Hugh: Gordy Harper, tell us who you are.
Gordy Harper: I am the director of Food for Families. Previously I was a real estate broker. Before that, a Harley Davidson dealer in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Hugh: We are across the state from the commonwealth. That is four or five hours away the other way.
Gordy: Virginia Beach?
Gordy: Four hours, at least.
Hugh: It’s real flat over there.
Gordy: Yes, it is.
Hugh: I ran a half-marathon there. Part of the reason I chose it was because it was flat. The other part was because Yuengling served beer at the water stops.
Food for Families, this is a nonprofit here. Let me set the context. We live in Lynchburg, Virginia. Lynchburg has one of the largest populations of those that live below the poverty line. I think 24% of the population. Food for Families is sort of geographically located where a lot of that population is. When was Food for Families started, and why was it started?
Ray: Many years ago, Food for Families is located in a church that currently is in a poorest area in the city. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was the heartbeat of the city. The first shopping center was there. This was the in place to be. It grew exponentially and was one of the wealthier cities and churches in the city. As time moved on and the new shopping mall was built in the suburbs and all the retail people in that part of the city left and went to the new mall and the development moved there, this area became more of a transient location. Over time, the poorest people in the city moved into this area. Lynchburg in the early 1900’s was one of the six wealthiest cities in the nation. A lot of wealth here, and they built huge homes. We have a lot of beautiful inner city homes. They were turned into apartments in the ’50s and ‘60s. Once the people started to come and appreciate the architecture, they bought all of those homes and moved the poor people out.
The poor people gathered around the Parkview Community Church. That is now the poorest area west of Richmond in the whole state of Virginia. The church was flourishing. As retail moved out, it started going downhill. They started having a Wednesday night meal every week. Back in 1996, a street person came in, and they fed him. The next week, he brought two of his friends. And more and more of the street people came in. More of the congregation left. They continued to feed the poor, and that number grew and grew. Still to this day, 21 years later, there is still a Wednesday night meal. We feed 125-150 people on Wednesday nights. The church started food boxes in 2007 because they saw all of these poor people on Wednesday night needing food. In 2008, the church was closed, and the food pantry survived another year or two until the guy who ran it died. It was closed for three or four months. Through a grant, we reopened the food pantry in 2011 as a client choice facility, the first one west of Richmond and one of the few-
Hugh: Tell us what client choice means.
Ray: Client choice means the neighbors come in and get a grocery cart and actually go back through the pantry and pick up the items their family will eat. Pick a produce, meat, dairy, bread, so forth. They only shop like you would shop in a grocery store or anywhere else and pick up the items their family will eat. That was very successful and still is to this day.
There has been a number of changes over the years. In 2012, a gentleman who has never been married, very poor, never owned a car died and left $225,000 for the benefit of youth in Lynchburg and to be used by the district superintendent. They developed a partnership with UMFS, which houses foster care and adopting. They agreed to put a regional office there. They used a third of the money to run the space. After they came, the district office moved there. We divided expenses three ways and utilities, and the Lord has continued to bless over the years. It has really taken off, and now we have 13 different nonprofits in the building. Many of those are very complementary to Food for Families and the neighbors, and today we serve 25% of the poor people in Lynchburg with food. That’s 3,000 individuals. We have had as much as 80,000 pounds of food going through the facility.
Hugh: 80,000 pounds. I have been by there on a Saturday. There is people waiting. Ray, when did you join this organization?
Ray: I joined in 2010.
Hugh: 2010. This is 2017 when we are making this recording. People may be listening to this in some other year or universe. Gordy, when did you join this organization?
Hugh: 2016. Year and a half. Ray is the chairman of the board, and you are?
Gordy: The director.
Hugh: What other data would you like to share? What I’m hearing is there are people who were doing something that was meaningful and they stayed with it. There is people listening to this who’ve had an idea and tried it, but haven’t really stayed with it long-term. I’ve also heard because of the value of the people staying with it, you attracted some funding and some other synergies with some other organizations. What other things do you want to share about what you know from the history and what the history is from 2016 going forward?
Gordy: As I came in, what we tried to focus on was changing the culture. I would sit in meetings in the city and hear people talking about how they didn’t feel respected when they went into those places. A lady said a culture of respect, and that locked into my brain. I went back and we tried to change the culture and help people see our neighbors, our clients who we call neighbors, not clients. Our focus was on changing the culture. A lot of that is in developing relationships because what I was hearing was people needed to help them come from where they are. I just knew from my own life that if you wanted to help me come from where I was, you were going to have to have a relationship with me, to be able to sit with me and share with me and listen and take it to heart. It mattered the things you said to me. The first year I was there, I was trying to build relationships and trying to bring down the walls that people build up around themselves because of where they are. We tried to show the love of Christ to people.
Hugh: Russell, they said a couple magic words. Relationships. They said culture. Do you have some comments or questions for these gentlemen?
Russell: Culture is more than just a cereal. It’s supposed to be good. It’s wonderful because what you are talking about, and I have dealt with it a lot, is basic human dignity. Sometimes it’s hard for people to reach out for help because they are in a circumstance through no fault of their own, and it’s important to treat people with that basic dignity. I commend you for making the effort to do that and connecting with these people that you’re serving. I was also excited to hear that you are co-located with a number of different agencies. If you could, talk about some of the things you have been able to do with some of those other folks that are partnered with you to provide a more holistic service to those people you are serving.
Gordy: We have a free clinic. We have tried to build relationships actually with all the different partners in the building. But we have a welcome center. Our welcome center is like a resource center, and I have set them up a satellite in our office. We are in the lower level of the building. Everything else is in the upper levels of our building. We have tried to establish ways to draw them down to where the neighbors are. But we have set a lady up in our office that can actually one-on-one with the neighbors. They are actually in the room waiting for hours at times. Some days I am there at 7:30, and there is a 2:00 distribution with people waiting already. We try to capture those morning hours where people are waiting to be able to shop and draw people in that can lead them to resources.
The free clinic, we have an establishing relationship. There is a nurse practitioner in there that is going to come down and meet with the neighbors, announce what services are available, and what she has actually talked about is coming to the Wednesday night community meals and establishing relationships by sitting with the neighbors and letting them know what’s available. We are trying to get flu shots. There are little things we talk about just from what we hear with the neighbors and try to see what needs they have.
We have a relationship with the local bank and a lady that is vice president there who is coming in and teaching personal finance classes, basic computing classes, reading, math skills, different things that will help people be in a better position to get employment.
Ray: There is a nutritionist that has been there several years that is teaching cooking classes. While the neighbors are waiting, she is up there showing them how to cook. We also have a counseling service there. This facility started even before everybody else moved in with a facility bin there. We met there for over seven years.
As a result of that synergy that came around that facility and those people being there, you have 50-60 people there every day at lunchtime for an AA meeting. As some of those people were able to overcome their addiction, one of them started a telecommunications company that is in the building that provides low-cost Internet and phone within a one-and-a-half-mile radius of the building. Two others actually formed a counseling service using the peer group model that is now extremely successful. They have contracts with all of the local school systems and hospitals, so if a student gets caught with drugs and alcohol, instead of being suspended, they are sent there. They have nine counselors now. They have a lot of people whose lives have turned around as a result of that.
The UMFS has foster care and adopting services for the entire region. They have contracts with all the schools as well. We have three churches that meet there. One on Saturday that is in a growth of the AA group. A lot of the people at the church service are across the spectrum. We have doctors, lawyers, all types of people there that through prescription drugs and other things, you read about it so much today, that were cured or came off the addiction that didn’t feel comfortable in their own churches or places. They come there with brothers and sisters who shared the same war and are helping each other. After the worship service, they have a meal together. That’s every Saturday night.
We have a Sunday morning church, and then we have a Sunday afternoon church. They are now getting more involved in the mission. Most recently, we have had one of the larger churches move their church office into the building because they want to be close to the neighbors and be more involved in administering to the poor. We have a number of different things there. We are continuing to try to expand more services as we get there. It’s continuing to grow.
Hugh: Russell is one of the first people. SynerVision is the synergy of the common vision. I have trademarked that name. We like the word charity because nonprofit is a stupid word. You have to make some profit if you are going to do any good. We like the word charity a little better. It is a tax-exempt social benefit organization or social capital. Lots of ways to describe it. People think of nonprofit as a philosophy, not a tax classification. I don’t hear any of that thinking from what I hear today.
Russell and I have reinvented the consultant model. I went from being a consultant to an insultant to a resultant. Now we partner with them to help them find the way, so we are WayFinders. We created a whole different paradigm because 98% of the consultants out there give the rest of us a bad name. Maybe they give answers, maybe they don’t. It’s the stock answer. Our calling is to give people information, free or at a price they can afford, so they can improve their culture, their service, and therefore improve their funding.
I wanted to talk about two other pieces here. We teach leaders that you don’t push, you influence. I am hearing some of that in your dialogue. You have been steady. You have worked out these collaborations with these other organizations with some synergistic work. I am gathering you were the first one on board and the others have come on board since then. Because of the impact of your work, I want to shift, and a lot of charities do that, but I know since I’ve heard your stories. There is measurable, profound impact from the work you do. That is part of the position of influence. Your operational guidelines, your high standards of integrity, the value you give people: those are all really strong principles. Those are part of who you attract, both in the collaborations and in the funding side.
If that influence piece makes some sense, you talked about improving the culture, redefining the culture. I’m not sure what word you used, but it was working on the culture. I watched you yesterday where you had most of those organizations represented at lunch. It was a lunch to share stories and be together. You were a servant leader there. You were handing out plates and checking on people. I don’t know if you were official, but you were an unofficial hospitality person yesterday. It gave me some insights into your leadership, sir.
Culture is so important; that’s part of the work you do. Leadership is a culture. It’s not just a person, it’s the culture. What’s been your journey of helping them—I like the word transform rather than change—transform their whole idea of culture? Give us a snapshot of what that journey has been like.
Gordy: It goes back probably. For this journey, when I was seeing it, people don’t really mean some of the things you see sometimes. It’s just more the nature of people as a whole unfortunately. I was watching. I would hear certain things and watch certain responses. It just wasn’t the outcome I was hoping for. I want more of a warm and comfortable- The way I have tried to sell it is the people we are serving don’t really get experiences. If I want to take my kids to Disneyworld or my grandkids, we are going to go. They don’t really get to do the same thing. We have tried to help people see that we want to create an experience where you look forward to coming back.
I know it’s just shopping to some people, but to our neighbors, when you see that they will come, some come at six in the morning. I have had people tell me- We start at eight, so I come around 7:30. There can be 10-15 people waiting. It just makes me understand the value. I know it’s free groceries. But they get to come once a month. I would like over that month’s gap for them to really look forward to it. We try to take everything, implement everything we can to make it an ice experience. We want to do it like the nice stores do, like Walmart. You want it to be. We need vests to say, “How can I help?” We want it to be clean, well-stocked, and with customer experience. We have to put it in the mindset that an average person would be thinking. When you walk through the grocery stores, what do you see? What is happening around you? Everything is neat and in order. The only difference is that we bring our pallets right through the front door. We set them right in the middle of our produce room and start picking through it to be able to distribute the food. It’s harder to keep it clean. We don’t have people come in the middle of the night to stock us to be ready for opening tomorrow. We have certain challenges that Walmart has mastered because of finances and the help they were able to bring in. if you think of it as creating a wonderful experience and not just feeding people-
Hugh: I love it. It’s the visual of people waiting in line for the new iPhone. They are excited.
Gordy: It’s hard because my family does what everyone else does when they want to do it. We have been very blessed. But I realize these folks don’t.
Hugh: It’s hard to realize that. Russell, we were born into white privilege. It’s not a disease, but there is a cure for it. I was in a room yesterday, and I said to Leigh Anne, “It’s nice to be in a room where everybody doesn’t look like me.” Because if everybody were to look like me, that would be scary. We had a cross-section of Lynchburg in that room. Age demographic, educational background, race, some of us better-looking than others, but not me.
The culture thing is something that we work with charities and churches on because we have inherited a culture. We don’t realize that people aren’t responding to us because we are doing the things the same way. I started a workshop Saturday with church leaders, and I said, “Who knows the seven last words of a church?” Nobody knew. “We have never done it that way before.” I said a lot of us come to meetings with that written on our foreheads. How about stripping it off? Let’s start with an open brain.
You came in 18 months ago. Ray, what sort of transformation has happened during his tenure so far?
Ray: Obviously his approach is very positive and very much like what we were all looking for. Our previous people took it more- In fact, he was a retired military person and was more for giving orders and this is the way we do it type of approach. That doesn’t create the same level of respect. You have to have a heart that you want to share and relate to these people rather than treat them as something to go through the door. Gordy has brought the heart into it. As a result of his faith, he has ben able to share that heart and love with the people. That is something I strongly believe in and something I try to do. I grew up very poor, not white privilege. I relate to these people really well. It’s all by the grace of God. It could be any of us. It’s been wonderful to see Gordy there and the way he has transformed the people there.
The other thing that has been such a huge benefit is the tremendous amount of volunteers we have. We have only a couple part-time people. Gordy is part-time. It takes at least 30 volunteers to run a distribution day. We have brought hundreds of volunteers in and hundreds of volunteer hours. If it wasn’t for the volunteers, we couldn’t survive. It’s important for the volunteers to have a good experience as it is for the neighbors. If they don’t appreciate and we don’t appreciate them and what they do, they wouldn’t be coming back. We have a tremendous amount of volunteers repeat on a continuous basis.
Also, Wednesday nights, we have numerous groups that cook the food, serve the food, provide music devotions, and relate to the people. That is probably 30 different groups over the years. That creates an experience of love and a relationship that carries forward into the volunteers on Thursday and Saturday and Wednesdays.
Hugh: This is what Gordy’s brought to the table. We like to teach that culture is a reflection of the leader. We want to criticize other people and take the blame off of ourselves. I want to ask some stories. Russell, what questions are you hearing, and do you want to throw some questions on the table?
Russell: What we are talking about is critically important. There is reasons why people want to support you. A nonprofit that is effective creates win-win-win scenarios: wins for the people who are working, wins for the people they serve, and wins for their supporters, whether they are giving time, talent, or treasure. Having the connection with people.
When you go into a community, particularly if you look different, there is a bit of a level of suspicion you have to overcome. That has been my experience. People get to know you and see you as genuine. You go in and ask a lot of questions; you don’t walk in with a lot of answers. People respond to that, and it’s a constant dialogue. How can we make this better? How can we serve you best? What is something that we can do that we’re not doing? These are all things to be critical. It’s having these conversations.
You have hundreds of volunteers. I am seeing people like Travis Smith, who has spread impact locally to 11 cities now. He has been successful at leveraging large numbers of volunteers. The question that I have is: What are you learning as you ask the people who volunteer for you why they keep coming back, why they enjoy serving, what makes them want to work with you?
Gordy: That’s a tough one to figure out. We do get responses and things from people. I haven’t really done a lot of research on it as much as it seems almost a standard amongst, especially the students. I see the students come in, and they start, they don’t know where to plug in. Some of them require hours and things like that, community service hours. You can start to see develop within them a heart for service. I think most of the young people nowadays really want to do something. They have something inside them that is stirring to give back. It’s interesting because I know one of the local colleges, they get 20 hours they are required to serve in their community. Over and over, I get comments of, “I had to do it up until then. I want to do it now.” It’s just something stirs within them to make them come back and want to do it. I think any of us, they will actually step outside of our comfort zone and go into these places and start to invest your time and energy, it’s in us.
Ray: All of us want to do things and please people. When we serve people, these people appreciate it and show their appreciation verbally, nonverbally, and so forth. Everything you do is appreciated. That warms people’s hearts, and they want to continue to be able to help the people. It’s all about being able to help and se that immediate impact and the smile on the face. That is what brings them back, and that is why if they get past that first hurdle and get comfortable, at least talk to people, then they can develop a dialogue. Particularly for young people, they don’t have the boxes that older people do as it relates to race, culture, etc. They more quickly join in if you will than the older people. They have a harder struggle sometimes getting past that barrier.
One of the big things that has been in Lynchburg the last five, six, seven years is Bridges over Poverty. We have gone through lots of training on that. Just a local pastor recently shared with me that he had the white privilege, if you will, to serve in larger churches. He really didn’t know how to talk to the poor. He went into one of these Bridges programs and came back and tried some different things. All of a sudden, they responded, and all of a sudden, he comes back every week because he’s retired and he sees how he can bring a smile to these people’s faces and how they can all of a sudden smile rather than sit there frowning.
Hugh: We bought this house recently. I said to the realtor and the mover, “You do this all the time, but we felt like we were your only clients. We move once in a great while. You move somebody every day. You sell a house every day.” These people, it’s a unique experience for them. You’re doing it all the time. What I am hearing about the culture it is a profound experience for everybody. You have created a win-win for everybody. Parts of white privilege don’t have to do with money. Just because we’re old white guys, there is a lot of dimensions to that. What I am hearing is you have evened the playing field in that people are people.
I’d like to hear a couple of stories that you can share. We have some time here. Is there a story of impact? Either one of you can start. Is there a story that you’d like to share that warms your heart or really made a difference in somebody’s life?
Gordy: Recently, we had two ladies come in. it was an off-time in our schedule. They were homeless. The way it hit me was it was impactful because of the pieces that came together. We are sitting in the office. We were able to draw the lady from the welcome center. She was in there. We were able to see them get their housing that evening. By establishing the housing, we were able to establish their food. She was able to get them bus passes. All the pieces, we stood in the office, and we talked it all through. All the pieces in a matter of 15 minutes came together. We stood there, we all held hands together, prayed together. We said, “Wouldn’t it be something if six months from now, we talked about, Remember when we all gathered here and figured out all the pieces?”
In two weeks, they came in and both had jobs. It was powerful for them to come in and share and for us to remember all the different resources aligned at that moment. It’s a powerful image of us remembering to draw the resources. You have to keep a pool of everybody together. They wanted me to understand all of our resources there and make sure what’s happening and get everybody everything they need and understand that the other partners in our mission are in as well. We have come to find out they are in as well, and they were actually doing some things that I hadn’t even realized.
The counseling, I sat with one of them and said, “I really want to figure out what we can do together.” They’re like, “Did you not realize Steve has been sending people up for a long time?” I’m like, “I did not realize.” Steve is the face you see first when you come into the office. Steve has been directing people to the resources they needed.
Ray: There are so many stories that happen all the time. We had a guy come in the office, and we had been getting money from somebody that gave us $100 a month for a long time. We didn’t know who it really was. One day, this guy comes through the door and says he didn’t have a car or anything. He rode the bus. “One month, I didn’t have the money to give you, and I got on the bus. Somebody got on with a bag of groceries, and I said they need it more than me.” He came back and gave us that $100. That guy has since come back numerous times, and he had Gordy go with him to the bank. The bank is sending us a check for $100 every month from his account. He had money when he first came to Lynchburg, and he has donated most of it. He has enough just to live. He really has the heart to help people. You look at him, and he has a long beard, long hair, but he has a heart. You never underestimate people. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Hugh: That’s a remarkable story. What do you think, Russ?
Russell: I think that’s great. That’s probably typical of the work you’re doing there. It’s all about people. As you bring people in, they come through the front door, and it’s almost like having them slide into your funnel as it were. When I worked for a tribe, people walked through the door. My programs were about jobs and business, but I was familiar with all of the other programs around me within the tribe.
When somebody walked into my office, they could start anywhere in that office, and they would be walked around from one end to the other, or across the street to the health clinic. When they walked in, they left with what they needed. Nobody took time to say, “This is not quite my job.” They would take the time. As a program director, we take time to walk people from one office to the other and make sure they are getting what they need before we hand them off. It’s a team effort. I looked at it as I worked for the community. I had a boss, I had the tribal chief and the tribal council, but I worked for the community. I am on display with everybody I serve.
It is important for them to have satisfaction. It is important for people writing the checks to be satisfied. It is important to have good relations with the community. All of that is important. Everybody has to feel like they are winning here. I commend you for setting up that type of environment. Asking people what they like and why they serve is critical because once you find out what it is they like, you can do more of it.
Even if they have to do a certain number of hours, they can do those hours with any nonprofit in Lynchburg, but they choose you. That is because of what you have been doing. That is your work on the culture. Find out a little bit more. I am in the frame of mind you can never ask too many questions to find out what makes people tick and to be there and to be that solution and have that heart of service that people need.
As we are coming up on this holiday, this is a great time to remember a lot of these things we are grateful for. Are you going to see some people over the next few days? I know the holiday is coming. There are a lot of meals to be served. What is on the agenda for the rest of this week? And Giving Tuesday is coming up. What is on the agenda? What do folks need to know so they can help support the work you’re doing because you serve a lot of people in need there?
Hugh: We are recording this prior to Thanksgiving in 2017, to put in context for people listening to the podcast. We are approaching a holiday where a lot of us eat a lot of food and celebrate with family that other people don’t have that option. What I have learned is when you are down and out, the society doesn’t help you most of the time. You guys are giving a hand up. This is so encouraging. To relay Russ’s question, what particular reflection do you have this season of the year? How do you interact with people that is different? Or is it different?
Gordy: I don’t see it as different.
Hugh: A lot of places shut down. It’s a trick question.
Gordy: I don’t understand the question, haha.
Hugh: A lot of places shut down, Russell. Oh, it’s a holiday. We are going to take time off. A lot of them close today and open again on Monday.
Gordy: We have our Wednesday night dinner. It will be a sit-down, serve you at the table.
Hugh: Who comes to that?
Gordy: Everybody in the community is allowed to come. It’s an open-door policy. We don’t even know who will be there yet. But the expectation—I reached out today to get more tables and chairs because we are expecting a huge crowd.
Hugh: Just to go back to the lineage and history of this that we heard, this was a very active large Methodist church. It dwindled down in membership, and it was no longer viable. The building is owned by the Methodist church. It reverted back to the district office who had to maintain it. Through the wisdom of the district superintendent, they started using it. It had a rebirth. Not just one church worships there, but there are at least three. Plus you have 13 different organizations. The ministry has sorted- It’s not all under the umbrella of the church. They are still ministries, I think. Go ahead.
Ray: It’s a building that originally started in 1857 on that site. It has grown until now, where it is 26,000 square feet. Then it died, and it’s now been reborn and rebirthed in even a greater sense. It’s how the people use the facilities.
What makes this site so unique is that it is in the very heart of the very poorest area. Two blocks away is the Salvation Army and the Center of Hope. Across the street is the public health department. Another block is a recreation center. There are ten Methodist churches within a two-mile radius of this. There is probably another 30 or 40 storefront churches and others around this. We have now partnered with another church, where a bus picks up people in the neighborhood. We give out so much food. We average 30 pounds of food for an individual in the family. A family of four will get over 100 pounds of food. The biggest problem they have is getting it home. They can’t get on the bus with that much. They all have to get taxis and share. It is a tremendous undertaking to take 80,000 pounds and distribute it in over two days. This past week leading up to Thanksgiving, we had over 300 families that went through there.
Hugh: Say those numbers again. You just slid those in here. How many pounds of food?
Ray: 80,000 pounds a month.
Hugh: 80,000 pounds of food per month. That other figure.
Ray: This past week, we had the most families we’ve ever had of 320-something families on Thursday and Saturday, just those two days.
Hugh: Over 300 families. That’s a lot of people.
Ray: Over 2,000 individuals.
Hugh: Wow. On Saturday?
Ray: Thursday and Saturday.
Hugh: Thursday and Saturday. That is just one week in this month. The impact of your work is pretty huge. We find that helping charities define their impact in quantifiable terms helps them attract regular, recurring funding. Talk a bit about how you sustain this, how you continue to make sure there is operational money, food in place, and you pay the light bill. How do you attract the funding? How many sources does it come from? I’m sure there is some in-kind, but there is some cash in there, too, isn’t there?
Ray: We have been tracking the cash. It comes from different areas. We get from churches, we get from organizations, we get a lot from grants. A lot of individual donations. If you donate $10, it will feed a family of four for one month. That is based on the supply of 100 pounds of food. We are able to present it that way. A lot of people respond to that because they want to help. It’s individuals, churches, organizations, and grants.
Our biggest supporter by far is Walmart. Over that 80,000 pounds of food, a third of that comes from Walmart. We pick up from three Walmarts, a Little Caesars, a Panera Bread every week. Walmart supplies are tremendous. 30-40,000 pounds a month comes from Walmart. They have given us grants. We have had a $55,000 grant to widen the entrance so we can get food in easier. Last week, we got another $55,000 grant from Walmart to buy a refrigerated truck so we can keep the produce fresh longer and pick it up and keep it fresh. They give community service grants as well. The people here are just so supportive of what we do. This community is very supportive.
Hugh: We qualify for that by showing the impact of your work. I want to point out to any businesspeople listening to this. You heard three brands mentioned here: Walmart, Panera, and Little Caesars. Those companies support you. You don’t have to toot their horn about their brand. It’s good for business to do this. This is the Walmart Foundation. It is philanthropic, but you have also had support from local stores, which is another source of funding.
What I heard you say is you have individual and company donations. You have in-kind donations, which is the food. You do get grants, so that’s three. We teach charities there is eight streams of revenue. We have money, which we call partner money. It comes from a rotary foundation or a church. They have designated funds for particular projects. It’s not really a grant or a donation, so it’s partnering. They have the funds and aggregate and take a bunch of churches or a groups like a rotary foundation. Each rotary has their own foundation. They can purpose special gifts. For charities to think about partnering with churches, synagogues, and other community organizations that want to give you a little bit of money, and you multiply it by 10 or 20 organizations, then you have some sustainable revenue to help you sustain your work. Are there other sources of revenue? I heard those.
Ray: I think you hit most of them there. You just never know when the Lord is going to bring something. Recently, last year, we got a big donation from an individual we have never heard of before, from another city. They just happened to have a family member that heard about it, and the foundation wrote us a check. We had to find out where it came from. You just never know how the Lord is going to provide and how the money is going to come. You never know.
Hugh: Russell, we are on the final wrap here. We are going to run over time. Any closing comments from you or a parting question?
Russell: I’d like to thank you for the fine work that you’re doing down there. You have some marvelous opportunities to leverage all the work you’re doing. I could say the same thing about the business. Find out what it is they like that makes them support you so you can just keep doing more of that and bring in more people through the door and keep talking to people. Those relationships are important. Keep working on culture because that is where it starts. This is what draws all of these gifts. When you have the right culture, you create the type of energy field, and the synergy to bring all this stuff about. Keep up what you’re doing. Blessings to you. Enjoy the holiday. I don’t know if you planned anything special for Giving Tuesday, but that is an opportunity to reach out and talk to people. Go on your Facebook feed and talk about the work you’re doing. Remind people that Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to support you.
Hugh: I want you to think about a parting comment. There are people out there struggling who have not been able to get traction. What encouragement would you give them if they are thinking about starting or they have tried to start and haven’t got traction?
As we are signing off here, which one of you wants to give a challenge, tip, or thought for somebody who wants to up their game?
Ray: Never give up. Just keep trying.
Gordy: Love the people you are doing it for.
Hugh: Love the people you are doing it for. And I heard with. You do all of that. I watched you in action. You can’t hide. Thank you so much for sharing. Russell, we are three guys having coffee in my kitchen. This is a kickback.
Russell: I am having coffee with you guys. It’s great. I noticed that I am drinking more coffee than you guys.
Hugh: We don’t subscribe to whether it’s half full or half empty because we think it’s all refillable.
Russell: It is.
Hugh: Blessings to everyone. Thank you for great stories on this podcast.