It was four years ago that food bank CEO Maria Lynn Thomas invited me into a conversation about joining the staff. In a departure from standard interview blather, I said that I hoped to work my way out of the job. With Community FoodBank on solid footing thanks to all of you, I believe I have.
Now I really must be going.
It’s Friday, July 12, just three days before my fourth anniversary at Community FoodBank. What a marvelous adventure it’s been! When I walked through the door in 2015, I really didn’t know what to expect. The next four years have been a learning experience to beat all, and some of some of the best years in my working life.
But now, I’m leaving a place I love, and my wife, Mary, and I are packing the house, packing the dog and pointing ourselves north. I’ve accepted a position with a place I love just as much as San Benito County. We’re about to plant ourselves in Jefferson County, WA.
Five years ago, I took a sabbatical year to attend the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, a small college dedicated to cultivation of craft. I left with an associate’s degree in traditional small craft building, repair and restoration. I am about to return to the school, to cultivate deeper relationships with alumni and to help students on their journey into a working life in the maritime trades.
So lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about changes, and thinking about all the things I will miss. Most of all, I’ll miss all the people who care passionately about the community we share.
There’s the staff, a tiny corps of people who share a vision and a dedication to doing things better every day. There are the volunteers who, week after week and year after year, give themselves to a job that offers only good feelings as compensation. There are the hundreds of community members – growers, business leaders, supporters, partner non-profits, youth organizations, board members – who make a very real commitment to building a better community through food. Hobby farmers and backyard gardeners troop in all year long to share their bounty with people they have not yet met. And there are certainly our customers, people that I’ve grown to know and love. I’m occasionally asked who our typical customer is. My answer is always the same. The people who visit the food bank look just like the people you encounter everyplace you go in San Benito County. It’s truly the most representative slice of local life you can hope to find.
Working at the food bank has forced me to open my eyes just a little bit wider, and to see more clearly the small miracles that occur every day. Do you know that major supermarkets and big box stores in San Benito County make daily contributions to support the work of Community FoodBank? When you’re asked to fight hunger at Nob Hill, Lucky or Safeway, all of that support stays right here in the community. Growers who nurture their produce to perfect maturity would rather feed families than feed a compost pile. In a land of plenty, there is always enough to go around.
Together, we’ve gotten a lot done since July 15, 2015. We purchased, then refurbished our building with the generous support of the community, foundation supporters and an inspiring dedication from the staff of the City of Hollister. We are about to launch a mobile marketplace, where shoppers can select from fresh, vibrant food right in the neighborhoods where they live. The food bank Marketplace discarded charity for a choice shopping model – a radical move among California food banks. The food bank has enjoyed new partnerships, and a deeper reach into local schools where kids can count on weekend groceries to bridge the gap when campus cafeterias are closed. We’ve just installed an edible landscape that also functions as a living classroom that displays how much food can come from small spaces.
Most important, the community began to more fully embrace the true meaning of Community FoodBank. It’s all about community, and by working together, we can all share in the good feelings that go with building an endeavor that fully belongs to the community. So, we’ve gone from begging folks to host a barrel during the holiday food drive to answering scores of phone calls from people who want a barrel, who want to be part of the answer. I cannot begin to name names, because so many will be left out, but local churches, businesses and service clubs are standing in line to lend a hand – and there’s always meaningful work to be done.
I began this little love letter to San Benito County by exclaiming about the adventure the food bank has been. The next adventure is at hand.
Mary and I always wanted to live near water, and Jefferson County has water in abundance. During my year back at the boat school, time and again I watched as people came together to get things done. I’ve seen the same thing occur every week at Community FoodBank. Now I think I can make a difference there.
When food bank CEO Maria Lynn Thomas and I began talking about me joining the food bank four years ago, I wasn’t sure if I was talking my way out of a job, but I said I would tell our story to the community, but I would not put the touch on people for support. She agreed, and we saw that when people understand what happens at 1133 San Felipe Road, they want to be part of the answer. You all have proven me right. Thank you.
So now it’s got to be so long San Benito County. We’ll be sure to visit, and we’ll certainly stay in touch. Meanwhile, we’ll keep a light on for you.
Mark Paxton is director of community engagement and fund development at Community FoodBank. In his spare time, he enjoys being outdoors with his wife, Mary. They are the parents of two daughters and live in Hollister.