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40 Years Later, Bill Bolling Prepares to Launch Urban Farms and Gardens

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

1975: America was recovering from scandal and mired in malaise. All around there was a feeling we could do better. In Atlanta, a young man named Bill Bolling opened a community kitchen to help feed the city’s growing homeless population. Four decades later he’s still feeding hungry Georgians with an eye on new projects and his planned departure next year from the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Imagine that, no Bill Bolling at the ACFB. That’s almost like no chicken in chicken soup.

“We actually have empty shelves,” Bolling said as we walked through the Food Bank’s massive warehouse on Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard northwest of downtown Atlanta.  “We ought to be bulging in November. We used to raise so much food that it would last until February or March. Nowadays it’s going out faster.”

When the Atlanta Regional Commission decided to start a new monthly Perspectives Speakers series the first invitation went to Bolling because, as moderator Craig Lesser noted, the series should discuss “issues we need to be thinking about if we are going to be a better community later today, next week, five years, ten years and fifteen years from now.”

Lesser told the diverse audience of community leaders, executives and educators that successful communities are “not just about successful people. It’s about how do we address issues that are equally if not more important about a large segment of our population.” In Georgia, one-in-four children and one in every five people do not always have enough to eat.

ACFB LogoWhen Bolling leaves his position as ACFB executive director next year he will launch an urban agriculture project that already has established lofty goals: hundreds of new community gardens, urban farms, farm-to-table and farm-to school initiatives. “This is the hottest thing going on,” Bolling said. “Young people three generations off the farm think it’s neat. They forget how hard the work is!”

Bolling founded what would become the Atlanta Community Food Bank in 1979 in the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church basement. This year the ACFB will distribute almost 60 million pounds of food, enough to prepare 37 million meals, changing lives one plate at a time for 750,000 who need food assistance in metro Atlanta and 29 north Georgia counties. The Food Bank has 650 community partner organizations. It picks up food from 400 grocery stores. It works with manufacturers. It will receive can-by-can donations from 700 holiday food drives before the end of the year.  It prepares and distributes hot food.

Feeding America’s “Hunger in America 2014” report says nationally four-in-ten client households have children under age 18 and one-in-three has someone 60 years or older. Eight-in-ten of the ACFB client households live at or below the poverty line which is $23,850 for a family of four. Six-in-ten who use food assistance held jobs within the past year and six-in-ten have more than a high school degree.

“If there were easy answers to these systemic issues we’re smart enough we would have figured them out,” Bolling said. “You start talking about wages, income mobility, income equality, that’s a hard conversation to have. Eventually we’ve got to have it. The narrative now is poor people blame the rich, the rich blame the poor and we all blame government. One of the things about the Food Bank is, we are the table for that discussion.”

Atlanta Community Food Bank Founder and Executive Director Bill Bolling

Atlanta Community Food Bank Founder and Executive Director Bill Bolling

The ACFB provides free supplies to teachers in 13 school systems. “Teachers know kids,” said Bolling. “They know which one’s hungry.” As a designated first responder it keeps on hand truckloads of water and emergency supplies. With Emory University it developed a “Hunger 101” course that is taught at food banks nationwide.

The ACFB has a full-time employee who works with Georgia farms to identify and harvest surplus produce before it rots. Each year the food bank distributes 12 million pounds of produce. “For kids you’ve got to make it cool to eat good food,” Bolling said during our warehouse tour. The food bank created its own nutrition and wellness center and it operates 15 mobile pantries weekly.

To suggest that the ACFB merely distributes food to community partners who get it into the hands of people in need would be way off-target. Today’s Food Bank is equal parts passion, relationships, logistics, transportation, collaboration, humanity, accountability and bringing people to the table who otherwise might not be there.  Some of the biggest names in corporate Georgia provide people and expertise at no cost because they understand that the Food Bank builds communities, one plate at a time.

When he does leave next year there will not be any ceremonial office kept warm. The new management team that Bolling began to build almost two years ago will be fully in charge and the 150 full-time professionals and the 20,000 annual volunteers will carry on.

As we walked through the massive warehouse full of thousands of boxes and bottles of stuff Bolling joked that sometimes the Food Bank gets products like raisin bran simply because there are too many raisins in the box. As he noted, “This is an interesting place to eat!”

(Click here to learn more about the Atlanta Community Food Bank.)

(Mike Klein is a journalist who has held executive and content leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production. Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

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November 4, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Voters Exercise Their Option on Transportation Sales Tax?

Days immediately following the World Series are nearly as exciting to me as who won Series games because teams begin to play the contract options game with borderline players.  Here’s how the game works.  They like the player and decide he stays another season.  Or they don’t like the player and they kick him down the road.

This year teams began to exercise or decline contract options on Tuesday.  That was the same day Georgia voters declined their option to impose a new statewide tax to fund expanded trauma care.  Expanded trauma care is a good idea.  But new taxes are not such a popular idea so voters kicked the idea down the road.

The next option Georgia voters will have to impose taxes on themselves will be in August 2012.   They will decide whether to raise local sales taxes by 1% to finance new local transportation projects. House Bill 277 divided the state into twelve regions, each one unique in its own way.  T-SPLOST success will to some degree determine the long-term economic survival of those regions.

There are significant differences between the trauma care vote that failed and the T-SPLOST initiative.  Most folks seldom envision themselves or their loves ones requiring trauma care but nearly everyone has experienced commuter gridlock, especially in Atlanta metro.

The second significant difference is that trauma care funding advocates had just several months to plead their case. The make-the-case window opens considerably wider for the transportation sales tax.

It’s going to be all about building the case.  Friday morning I discussed T-SPLOST with four leaders who attended the Atlanta Regional Commission’s annual State of the Region breakfast.

Tad Leithead, Chair, Atlanta Regional Commission:

“That referendum is going to be a key moment in the history of this region when we ask our citizens to invest their own tax dollars in vastly needed improvements,” Leithead told 900 guests who gathered at the Hyatt Hotel downtown. Later we spoke in the hallway and he added these ideas:

“The fact the referendum is in August 2012 gives us time to get information to voters so they understand what the project list is, they understand what the outcomes will be if they vote in favor of this thing, so they have a reason to vote yes on what is essentially an increase in their taxes.  Our polling shows people will spend the money if they believe it will make a difference in their commute, in traffic.”

Sam Olens, Attorney General-Elect

“It’s more important in a bad economy to assure the public that they (will) get great value for that dollar or it is dead on arrival.  The vote Tuesday re-confirmed what many people thought.  Folks are tired of government asking for money for money’s sake. If government tries to use a bunch of the money in this T-SPLOST for street scapes or niceties, once again, it’s dead on arrival.  They want to see congestion relieved.  While there’s a vocal minority that wants sidewalks and street scapes, the typical voter wants reduced traffic congestion.”  Olens is immediate past chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission and also the Cobb County Commission.

Sam Williams, President, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce:

Like the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Metro Chamber will be highly visible in T-SPLOST diplomacy  through summer 2012.   Williams said experience shows public hearings and input made a difference when Denver, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and other cities asked voters to approve T-SPLOST funding.

“The trauma care bill passed in April and it (was) on the ballot now compared to the transportation vote referendum where we’ve got a year and a half to two years.  There’s going to be a huge amount of time to educate people.  We’re so early. There’s going to be a lot of debate, as it should be, about how should this regional sales tax be spent?  What’s the balance between roads and transit and other forms of light rail?  That’s going to be a very good, healthy debate.”

Susan Mendheim, President and CEO, Midtown Alliance

Education is huge. The question is how you reach the general public who has to make the decision about whether the tax they might be asked to pay will go to services that might make their lives better.  We are pleased to be part of an effort made up of diverse organization from around the region and spearheaded by the Chamber to educate the public around the merits of the transportation bill.

“This group seems to be moving in the right direction to galvanize the region around supporting the bill. The group has sought out advice from consultants that have been instrumental in passing similar bills in other cities. They know how to communicate and know how to use technologies that are available today that will reach the voters.

“At the end of the day, our elected officials have to listen and appreciate where one another are coming from with the idea that their decisions must consider the larger regional agenda and not just their own community’s interest. That’s often a tough call for everyone.”

Footnote:

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation commentary website (www.georgiapolicy.org) has a significant transportation policy section.  Other resources include the Metro Atlanta Chamber (www.metroatlantachamber.com) and Atlanta Regional Commission (www.atlantaregional.com).

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

November 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment