The July 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Oakland Youth Organize

Hate Crimes Against the Homeless

Food Bank Helps Ease Hunger

Food Bank Keeps Growing

San Diego's Economic Cleansing

Psychiatric Abuse and Repression

Transit Activists Win Victory

Technology for the Poor

Violent Arrest at City Hall

The Dream of People's Park

New Richmond Shelter to Open

Street Spirit Vendor Tony McNair

Bush's Tax Cuts for the Rich

Corporate Benedict Arnolds

Rain Lane's Photographs

"Say Something" A Short Story

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


ARCHIVES

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 

 


 

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

How the Alameda County Food Bank Evolved and Grew

by Carol Harvey

Alameda County Food Bank staff attended a rally on the capitol steps in Sacramento on Hunger Action Day in May 2005. Hundreds of advocates spoke to lawmakers about legislation that will help low-income Californians feed their families.

Father John Rawlinson, one of the founders of the Alameda County Community Food Bank, told me a tale so dramatic that it might have started with a legendary opening: "Once upon a time."


"Many years ago, the heiress to the Hearst fortune, Patty Hearst, was apparently kidnapped," Father Rawlinson said. "There was a ransom demand that a million dollars worth of food had to be distributed among the poor of certain cities."


Oakland was a key location for the food redistribution. As the minister of a nearby Oakland church, Father John had a vantage point to watch it all unfold. "About two blocks from our church, where I am sitting now, was one of the distribution sites of that Patty Hearst food in an old abandoned Safeway store," he said. "I saw poor people gathered, but I saw one woman in a new Cadillac drive up, elbow her way through the crowd, grab a case of food and take it back to her car. Then she went back to get more.


"The point is, the Patty Hearst food was intended for poor people, but it ended up with some greedy people. It's the same thing with Enron or anything else. There are some greedy folks in the world. If you are going to provide for those who ought to be cared and provided for, you've got to establish structures and mechanisms for guaranteeing the proper use of resources. Whether it's somebody's lifelong pension, which others did not protect, or food for the needy, it's the same issue."


The Alameda County Food Bank's board of directors became aware of the need to establish pristine credibility. It worked on this for a long time, concerned that, unless it was done, the food bank would not draw funders, and clients would not come to get food.


Father Rawlinson knows whereof he speaks. He is a businessman, and is the minister of St. James Episcopal Church in Oakland, where he has for years sponsored and managed the St. James Emergency Food Pantry, which once a month at Sunday Services collects donations to give to the city's homeless and needy.


Father Rawlinson was a founding member of the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which, on June 9, 2005, moved from the old commissary at the Oakland Army base to its sparkling new facility at 7900 Edgewater Drive.


Father Rawlinson, along with many leading lights in Oakland, helped the Food Bank develop the solid reputation it enjoys today. He served on the Food Bank board of directors for nine years with three successive three-year terms.


Suzan Bateson, executive director of the Alameda County Food Bank, named Father Rawlinson, along with Gloria Perkins and Cleveland Thomas, as conscientious guardians of the Food Bank's charge to feed the hungry. Perkins is the long-time executive director of the East Oakland Switchboard, a food bank member organization providing services to low-income people. Thomas is executive director at Good Samaritan Home. All three have seen the Food Bank grow from its beginnings in 1985 to where it is today.


Over the last 25 years, four executive directors have led the Food Bank in delivering millions of pounds of food a year through its 280 member agencies to day programs, food pantries, homeless shelters, church soup kitchens, senior residential programs, and other sites.


John Momper, interim director in 2000 during the Food Bank's 15th anniversary, later oversaw accounting, finance, and personnel for the Berkeley Labor Center.


Then Dan Scarola, a former plant manager for Clorox and the Food Bank treasurer with experience in warehousing, planning, design, marketing, and contacts in the food industry, "hit the ground running, when he stepped in as interim director."


Then, following Scarola, Suzan Bateson was named executive director in 2001.


"This Food Bank," said Father Rawlinson, "is unusual and significantly different. Most food banks in the country were set up by industry groups or by a superagency like United Way or the Red Cross. Other food banks start with maybe five, six, maybe ten corporate people who serve as the board. They begin with that professionalism, and then struggle to build grassroots contacts.


"This is one of the few food banks that grew at the grass roots from the ground up, constituted by food-serving agencies rather than industrial personnel. Not only was it responsible to the community, right from the beginning, it was the community. Early on, we had some problems with the Second Harvest Food Bank network, of which we are a member, because they themselves were organized by a group of food corporation executives who understood the top-down methodology."


Some companies comprising the board of Second Harvest are: Coca Cola, Motion Picture Association of America, Evian, Kroger, ConAgra, and Quaker Foods.


For several years, Second Harvest held the Alameda Food Bank in a sort of probationary status in which there was a "gently tense" relationship with the national food network.
"We were not properly organized by their standards," Rawlinson said, which were "that you had X number of corporate people who ran the thing with no sense that there would or should be real community agency involvement other than as recipients, and certainly not in governance.


"They were also not happy with some of the non-voting people who represented us at their meetings," he explained, because grassroots people "tended to ask uncomfortable questions. They were interested in corporation-style questions."


Second Harvest hired a Roman Catholic sister as their executive director in Chicago. On a tour of the country, she visited, bringing her suspicions. Then, she said, "Oh, I get it. It's ground up," and became an ally. In the corporate-level administration of her order, she dealt with retirement funds, property titles, contracts, planning and finances. She combined corporate competence with church compassion.


In 1985, people without background or experience started the Alameda County Food Bank. They were driven by good-hearted urges and a sense that there may be additional food out there to obtain. Early board members were volunteers from small churches with minimal education and experience.


In a slow professionalization process that began about three years after incorporation, they started to place on the board clergy and volunteers with more experience and education. Uncomfortable early experiences prompted them to see the need to professionalize. "The beginning was pretty rocky," said Rawlinson.


One San Franciscan businessman with Oakland interests attempted a takeover. He subdivided his group of 25 into five groups of five people, each with one vote. When it was rumored the FBI was investigating him for misuse of funds, the Food Bank disbanded entirely to prevent allegations of impropriety. After the smoke cleared, they gathered again.


Another early problem developed when the Food Bank had to subsume into its operation a West Oakland governmental program with federal grants to distribute commodities. Widespread comments were made that this program had never had an audit. To get off the ground as a County agency, the Food Bank had to take over that program in its unaudited state. "It was either take it or don't exist," Rawlinson recalled.


After the Food Bank was legally incorporated, a federal audit uncovered problems. Media attention tarred the Food Bank with the earlier group's impropriety.


"There was a serious question about whether the Food Bank could or would survive," Rawlinson stated. "Fear was that people wouldn't donate to it. It would not receive state or federal food to distribute. It would have no operating money."


A third problem developed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake after the elevated deck of the Cypress freeway in Oakland pancaked onto its lower deck, killing 25 or 30 commuters in cars. The Food Bank's warehouse was located across the street in the block adjacent to that collapsed structure. Truckers used the driveway to the second story nervously because, even though it was poured concrete, the floor wobbled. This wobbling, the need for more space, and the earthquake, prompted a quick decision: "We've got to move out of here."


The Food Bank's expanded, more stable and visible site in East Oakland bordering San Leandro, just off 105th Avenue, drew in more support by more agencies with more food distributed. When that entire area was sold for development, a space opened up at the base in Alameda, followed by the June 2005 move to its present new site.


From these experiences, an awareness of the need for a professional board developed. "The way you deal with problems like these is: Professionalize. Bring skills. Bring knowledgeable people, and rely on them. The second level of member directors really began to develop that vision."


Beginning about the third year of the Food Bank's operation, highly credentialed and qualified people came on the board. "We set as our goal what we called 'the professionalization of the board' -- not simply filling a seat, but bringing on people with particular professional skills."
After the audit problems, a highly regarded CPA from the Alameda County technical advisory committee named Roland Smith, "a man of considerable talent, skill, ability, background, reputability," provided the accounting expertise.


"Since he had looked at the books through that technical advisory committee, nothing was unknown to him, and very quickly he was elected treasurer," Rawlinson said. "After he left the Food Bank board, Roland became the treasurer of the City of Oakland."


Over time, the Food Bank developed a highly skilled, talented, diverse board. One board member was executive director of the Western Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits universities -- a man with enormous administrative, personnel and fundraising skill.
"The first attorney we got was a specialist in nonprofits with a focus on personnel in nonprofits," Rawlinson said. It was very hard to find someone like that.


Asked how he now feels about the effectiveness of this effort on which he and others had spent so much time, he replied, "I think it's excellent. It was a long hard road to get it to where it is as a thoroughly professional organization.


"At first, the board tended to tamper in the day-to-day operations. A board should never do that. As a result, the first executive director was badly hamstrung and unable to do the proper administration and building. Little by little, as we professionalized it, people came on board who understood the role of a board, in policy terms, in design terms, in planning terms, in fundraising terms -- but not in day-to-day operations."


When the executive director was free to preside, this "allowed the Food Bank to become a very professional organization in the best sense of that word."


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