BY: Jenny Moore
An old folktale, retold each year at Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC’s signature Empty Bowls event, offers a relevant beginning to another story – one weaving together strands of the Food Bank’s nearly 40-year legacy of feeding community into a common vision and commitment to build a healthy, hunger-free community for everyone.
IT’S WHAT YOU BRING TO THE POT
In the tale of “Stone Soup,” a hungry traveler arrives at a village where the inhabitants are hungry and think they have nothing to spare. The traveler goes door to door with no success, until he fills his one possession, a pot, with water and puts a rock in it. A villager passing by asks, “What are you cooking?” The traveler replies, “Stone soup, and it’s delicious, but it would be better with a carrot.” A carrot is not so much, so the villager throws one in. Another villager passes. “What’s that?” he asks. “Stone soup,” replies the traveler. “It’s delicious, but it would be better with an onion.” An onion is not so much, so the villager throws one in. It went on like this, each villager contributing one ingredient, until a huge pot of soup was created. With each villager giving what he had, there was enough for all.
It’s a simple, yet poignant tale; a reminder that each and every one of us has something to offer, and living in a community is about giving what we can and receiving help when we are in need. This spirit of community underpins the 20-year history of Second Harvest’s annual Empty Bowls event happening April 28 and, in fact, the legacy of the entire Second Harvest organization.
At Empty Bowls, local restaurants and chefs have contributed pots of soups; artists have contributed handcrafted and painted pottery bowls; businesses, foundations, and healthcare partners, faith-based and civic organizations, elected officials – every sector of our community – has provided support, alongside hundreds of individual community members. Because of COVID-19, the 20th Empty Bowls will be different, a drive thru, pick up event at Bridger Field House at Truist Field. But it will still include the most important things: you and the mission. There will still be beautiful, handcrafted pottery bowls. And delicious soups, of course. Garner Foods remains the steadfast presenting sponsor.
Ticket sales are open at EmptyBowlsNC.org
Second Harvest team members told us they will miss gathering around tables with Food Bank patrons this year, noting that over its history, transformative change at the organization has been rooted in inspired conversations held among people who believe, as they do, that everyone deserves to eat.
SHARING THE ABUNDANCE
80 billion pounds of food are wasted every year, yet more than 37 million Americans do not get enough nutritious food to lead healthy, productive lives. The economic and social challenges at the root of persistent food insecurity have worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, like food insecurity, continues to impact some of our neighbors disproportionately. Here, and across our nation, community members of color are more than two times as likely to struggle with food insecurity.
Nearly 40 years ago, a growing acknowledgement of poverty, food insecurity, and disparity within our community stood starkly against a backdrop of tremendous food waste and abundant agriculture in the region. These contrasting circumstances led a group of concerned citizens to figure out how to get available bounty to neighbors who needed it most.
In 1982, the Food Bank of Northwest NC hired its founding Executive Director, Nan Griswold, and our community and region officially joined the food bank movement (Feeding America). “Second Harvest” was later added to the Food Bank name to better reflect its core food rescue operations in partnership with grocery retailers, including Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods, Walmart and others. These operations continue to serve as a central hub and source of food for a network of 430+ partner food assistance programs – food pantries, community kitchens and shelters, and special meals programs for children and seniors.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC. First Partners to receive food. 1982, photograph. Winston-Salem, NC.
Under Griswold’s leadership, awareness and support for the organization grew exponentially. Within one year of opening the Food Bank moved twice, leaving its first 1,800 sq. ft. warehouse and landing in a 9,700 sq. ft. space in the Old North State Supply Company building on Liberty Street, donated to the Winston-Salem Foundation by Richard Budd. Ten years into operations, our community supported the construction of a 34,000 sq. ft. warehouse. In 2001, Griswold introduced the inaugural Empty Bowls to a crowd of 250 people. The event has grown each year since; the most recent event drawing a crowd of 1,800.
MAKING ROOM AT THE TABLE
In 2002, the community rallied to support Second Harvest’s Making Room at the Table campaign, nearly doubling the size of the Food Bank’s warehouse and allowing for the introduction of the BackPack program, which provides meals for children on weekends. Later, the nationally recognized Providence Culinary Training (PCT) program (known originally as Triad Community Kitchen), began. Led by Chef Jeff Bacon, PCT and its social enterprises at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, focus on serving community members facing barriers to employment and changing lives, one recipe at a time.
When Griswold retired in 2008, Clyde Fitzgerald, a retired executive for Reynolds American who’d been an integral part of Second Harvest Food Bank for its entire history, including 26 years as a board member, advocate, and three terms of service as board chair, assumed the organization’s helm.
The impact of the Great Recession was already clear in the rising numbers of people seeking food assistance across Second Harvest’s network. Fitzgerald understood he would be called upon to inspire even deeper community engagement to expand the resources and impact of the organization in service to the people and communities of Northwest NC, and he did. Fitzgerald’s passion for feeding children and families was well known, respected, and supported across our region and state. Under his leadership, nine BackPack programs grew to 109 and annual food distribution grew from nearly 8 million pounds to 37 million pounds.
FORGING THE FUTURE
When Fitzgerald retired in 2018, he told Second Harvest’s many supporters that he was doing so with complete confidence that the Food Bank had hired the right person in Eric Aft to lead the organization into the future. Our entire community grieved the loss of Fitzgerald, who sadly passed away just six months after retiring, but his spirit remains at the heart of the Food Bank he loved.
In the face of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aft’s 31 years in nonprofit management, proven leadership in building collaborative approaches to addressing pressing community issues, and commitment to innovation and transformative change is needed now, more than ever.
A TURNING POINT
Aft, like the leaders before him, is keenly aware that the success of Second Harvest Food Bank cannot be measured in square footage or pounds of food.
“Our work is centered on the fact that food is foundational. As a community, we must ensure that every person has access to healthy food – this is required for our kids to succeed in school and our adults to perform at their best at work. For each of us, food provides the fuel for all we do.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of food insecurity was improving due to economic conditions; however, more than 1 in 7 individuals were still facing uncertainty over where their next nutritious meal might come from. Aft and his team understand that it will take greater ingenuity to address both the immediate challenges of hunger and its root causes.
“The future is about constant innovation and partnerships. During the pandemic, we’ve been required to adapt and change rapidly. Our success in doing so showed us what is possible. The impact of the pandemic will be felt for multiple years. We must be prepared to continue our enhanced response efforts while focusing on new, promising strategies that will position individuals for success and break the cycle of hunger and poverty.”
HUNGER FOR CHANGE
As the backbone to the region’s hunger relief network, Second Harvest understands its responsibility to lead conversations about the intersections of food insecurity, poverty, health, and racial disparities. Second Harvest is seeking ways to enhance its core mission to support people who are experiencing hunger while also addressing the circumstances underlying hunger. Over the last couple of years, this has been brought to life through greater nutrition education, explorations to expand its culinary training program, distribution of more fresh produce, and new methods to get food to our area’s children and seniors.
Aft says the future will require not only new thinking, but new infrastructure. “Second Harvest’s facility was not built to handle the more than 43 million pounds it is now distributing, nor all of the programs that are creating results in the fight against hunger.”
As the Food Bank’s leaders look to the future, they know they can work better and smarter. The organization’s $10 million Hunger for Change capital campaign, led by Cantey Alexander, Triad Market President with Truist, Chair and Cynthia Anderson, Honorary Chair, will address the capacity, efficiency, and technology constraints that are slowing transformational impact down at a time when it needs to be moving faster.
“What our organization has been able to achieve through the challenges of the past year is a testimony to the deep dedication and talent of our staff, our committed board, our strong network of partner agencies, and our compassionate and engaged community of supporters. It is an honor to work alongside them all to create an even brighter future.”
“Nan and Clyde gave us all the opportunity to be part of the solution. Now we are compelled to build on this history and make our work even more impactful. It is the critical mission of Second Harvest that motivates us to place all our energies in strengthening the region we call home.”
You can learn more about the work of Second Harvest at SecondHarvestNWNC.org and about how you can be part of creating a stronger future for our community at HungerforChangeNC.org.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC | 3655 Reed St. Winston-Salem, NC 27107 | SecondHarvestNWNC.org