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Bill Bolling

      . . . executive director and founder, Atlanta Community Food Bank. Mr. Bolling‚s founding leadership and Board of Directors positions include Second Harvest National Food Bank Network, the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, Community of Hospitality, Mazon, the Georgia Housing Trust Fund Commission and the Regional Leadership Institute. A former Kellogg Fellow, Mr. Bolling has traveled extensively throughout the world, studying citizen democracy and conflict resolution in emerging participatory forms of government.

Excerpts3:38 secs
[This Program was recorded September 25, 2001 in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

      Food is like air and water -- everybody needs it and one gulp is not enough to sustain life. But food is more, Bill Bolling has figured out. It‚s also a tool for building community and, ultimately, democracy.

      In 1979, Bill Bolling founded the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which he has led ever since. While America is the world‚s breadbasket, 20% of its perfectly good food ends up in the dump. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 American children go hungry along with an ever-greater number of people caught without a safety net as a result of welfare reform. Where others shrugged, Bill Bolling saw a potential win-win situation: collect and distribute the perfectly good food thrown away by grocery stores, restaurants and caterers. Fill empty stomachs instead of landfills.

      Bill Bolling was at the vanguard of what is now a national network of almost 250 organizations which bring good-but-unsalable food to America‚s hungry. A practical entrepreneur, Mr. Bolling‚s approach was to „centralize the acquisition and decentralize the distribution.š That‚s key to providing nearly a million and a half meals a month in the Atlanta area alone. It takes every one of the 700 community-based organizations with whom the Atlanta Community Food Bank works to close the gap.

      Whether bringing hungry people and wasted food together or helping people in emerging democracies learn to be active citizens, Bill Bolling‚s life‚s work is about relationships. His mission is to engage, educate and empower everyone in communities. In that vein, Mr. Bolling believes Americans have become too hard on each other. He‚s convinced the reason is we don‚t know each other. Rich people trust poor people to work every day in their homes, Mr. Bolling points out, but not to make enough money to live. Why? Mr. Bolling‚s convinced the prosperous simply don‚t value the poor enough because they don‚t know the folks who wash the cars, shine the shoes, clean the hotel rooms, work in the restaurants, and wait on tables.  So most Food Banks, including the one in Atlanta, enlist prosperous volunteers so they can get acquainted with people Mr. Bolling calls the best folks in the world.

      Important as every meal is to a hungry person, the larger problem Mr. Bolling works to address is a basic conflict in the way he observes Americans have allowed society to be structured. Emergency programs have been created instead of taking care of unmet needs in a more systematic way. Democracy depends on community, says this former Kellogg Foundation Fellow who has worked in mediation and conflict resolution around the world. Bill Bolling is convinced that democracy is a verb, not a noun. It's messy, he says. And at its best, democracy slows down because we all get involved in it.

Conversation 1

Bill Bolling puts faces on America‚s hungry, people who inspired him to found Atlanta‚s Community Food Bank in 1979. He tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell about the steadily increasing number of working-poor Americans who have no safety net in the wake of „welfare reform.š

Conversation 2

America‚s values are examined. „What really holds us together?š Mr. Bolling asks He suggests we measure the wrong things, concerned that 1 American child in 5 is hungry.  He considers those kids in the context of their families, then frames issues of power and powerlessness. Focusing on education, he describes the Atlanta Food Bank‚s program which makes discarded school supplies available to teachers, free of charge. Building relationships and engaging people, not simply distributing goods, is his real business, he says. Mr. Bolling proposes reasons Americans seem to have replaced outdated Cold War fears with fear of our own government.  He proposes opportunities for greater collaboration across sectors.

Conversation 3

Describing himself as a practical entrepreneur, Mr. Bolling describes enlisting all kinds of community resources. He compares how one lives a good life with how he has created programs for the homeless and hungry.  He expands on the variety of expertise needed, and the power of using volunteers in food banks and distribution programs. Engaging, educating and empowering the entire community and raising the communities' consciousness is the larger goal, he maintains. He outlines their „Hunger 101š curriculum for all ages, distributed free throughout the country. He compares Food Banks‚ long view to their short-term work as „Moving beyond őAin‚t it Awful?‚š.

Conversation 4

Mr. Bolling describes what he learned in his 3-year Kellogg Foundation Fellowship, focused on emerging democracies and mediation/conflict resolution. He recalls learning about emerging democracy in Russia while helping feed hungry people.  He describes democracy as a verb, not a noun, and uses Russia, Africa and Latin America as examples. Things take time, he reminds us, then tells why he was fortunate to settle on food as his tool for community building.

Conversation 5

The mechanics of connecting food with hungry people are detailed. Mr. Bolling describes overcoming formidable logistical challenges of keeping good food from becoming solid waste.  He describes „centralizing the acquisition and decentralizing the distributionš of food.  The respective roles of government and the private sector are considered, as Mr. Bolling assures us the Food bank is not a „fix-itš organization -- it is a community-building organization. He objects to the short-term thinking that has resulted in prisons being America‚s fastest growing housing program.

Conversation 6

People all over the world now come to Mr. Bolling when starting similar work.  He explains how that came to pass and reminds us of the risk-free, hundred-fold rewards of investing a bit of one‚s time or life in community-based endeavors.


We heartily applaud the work of the Atlanta Community Food Bank and almost 250 similar organizations in America and increasingly in the world at large. We are particularly impressed by the energy and vision of a greater good that Bill Bolling has embodied in shaping his life and we personally thank him for it.

The thousands of people who give time and energy to support their communities and neighbors through programs like the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Atlanta‚s Table and Second Harvest have our respect and admiration.   They all welcome participation in their community-building activities.

Related Links:
Visit the Atlanta Community Food Bank‚s website and that of Second Harvest to learn more.

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