Sarah Nordwick and MAria Thomas pictured at Rural and Remote Food Bank Conference

On May 21st, Sarah Nordwick, our Board Chair, and I had the privilege of attending an all-expense paid trip to Sacramento to the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) Rural and Remote Food Bank Capacity Building Initiative Conference. We participated in a day chock full of seminars and activities all aimed at building two main organizational skills: making better strategic decisions and telling our stories.

La Piana Consulting, the firm that conducted the seminars, focused our attention during the morning session on knowing our organizational strengths and making strategic decisions based on those strengths. One of our food bank’s strengths is our stewardship of resources. We operate as lean as possible so every penny gets reinvested into our food programs. In fact, our independent financial audit shows that our food programs comprise 97% of our expenses, and only 3% is spent on administration and fundraising.

Lester Olmstead-Rose, from La Piana, advised that organizations call on their strengths to guide answers to profound business decisions. One strategic decision that Community FoodBank is wrestling with is how to ask more people to sign up to be monthly donors. Lester suggested using our strength of resource stewardship in our monthly donor campaign. That way, folks can be rest assured that their dollars are being spent wisely, efficiently, and productively. Makes sense to me.

The second half of the conference focused on the art of telling organization-based inspirational stories. We all shared stories from our food banks. The story that most impacted me was told by Bill Gibbs, Executive Director of Merced County Food Bank. Bill told us that about 4 years ago, an elderly woman called at the end of the day for emergency food. Because they were just closing the office, staff told her to call back tomorrow. The Director at that time, overhearing the conversation, got on the phone and asked if she would be ok for the day. The lady replied, “Yes, I have a can of cat food and a tortilla.” The Director left the office and took an emergency food bag to the lady’s home.

But that’s only the beginning of the story. The Director retold this story many times to emphasize the importance of their senior food program. One man who heard the story was a football coach and it touched him so much that he felt compelled to do something to help. He organized his team to collect canned food for the senior program. The first year they collected 7,500 pounds of food. The fundraiser has turned into a yearly event and this year they raised $70,000 for the program. What an amazing story about the power of One!

We learned that the power of telling stories is that you never know who is listening or how it will affect someone. That sharing statistics is fine, but people relate to people more than they relate to numbers.

During the last session of the afternoon, Lester discussed how to develop a fully engaged board of directors. That’s organization development lingo for “how to get your board members to do more than just show up for a meeting once a month.” Apparently, many organizations have issues with their boards. Fortunately, Community FoodBank is blessed with incredible board members who are dedicated to the mission and vision of the food bank. One skill that we will work on though, is telling our stories. Board member don’t work at the food bank. Their job is to be a spokesperson, be an advocate, for the food bank wherever they go. And having inspirational stories in your pocket is a huge advantage in getting the word out about the food bank and the important work that we do for our community.

The conference ended with a fun group photo and a pile of homework to guide us in implementing what we have learned. I am looking forward to our next meeting with the Rural and Remote food banks and CAFB.


Maria Lynn Thomas is the Chief Executive Officer of Community Food Bank of San Benito County.



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