During the holiday season, it’s not uncommon for us to think about—and reach out to—others who are in need, especially those who don’t have enough to eat. Of course, when the new year rolls around, many of us turn our attention to other issues in our lives and unintentionally put these thoughts on the back burner. But not Bill Bolling. Thinking about people who suffer from hunger is something that he has done every single day for the last 30 years.
“People need to eat every day. We have to keep replenishing our bodies every day,” says Bolling, founder and executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB). Celebrating its 30th year in 2009, the organization has focused all of its efforts around this basic precept, working tirelessly to support an array of people in need, from children to the working poor. And today, with the help of 1,000 volunteers each month, the ACFB distributes more than 20 million pounds of food and other grocery items annually to more than 800 nonprofit partner agencies in 38 counties throughout North Georgia, including food pantries, community kitchens, childcare centers, night shelters and senior centers. The Food Bank also coordinates hundreds of food drives with outside groups each year and strives to engage the community by educating the public about the plight of the hungry.
The ACFB’s astounding success is not something Bolling ever imagined when he was placed in charge of the emergency food-provider program at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in downtown Atlanta in 1975. Seeing the widespread need for such a program inspired Bolling to establish an organization that would be solely dedicated to feeding the hungry in the city; hence, the Atlanta Community Food Bank opened its doors in 1979.
Over the course of three decades, the organization has expanded exponentially, developing a comprehensive range of projects, such as Atlanta’s Table, which allows the ACFB to collect prepared, perishable food from the local hospitality industry and deliver it the same day to more than 40 metro-area nonprofit partner agencies. It also started the Hunger Walk/Run, which has brought together Atlanta residents each March for 25 years to support hunger and poverty relief. And Hunger 101, which plays an integral role in furthering the ACFB’s mission, increases awareness about hunger and poverty on local, state and national levels through workshops, online curricula and other creative educational tools. According to Bolling, “We like to say that we have a ‘menu’ of opportunities for people to get involved.”
For Bolling, it doesn’t matter in what way people choose to help—the key is that they do. Whether it’s volunteering in the ACFB’s food warehouse and distribution facility, donating goods to a local food drive or writing a check, there’s a way for everyone to lend a hand. And the opportunity to do something constructive is needed today more than ever. “In tough economic times and times of high cynicism, the Atlanta Community Food Bank provides a counter to that cynicism,” Bolling says. “Each of us has a choice when we wake up in the morning. We can surround ourselves with hope or be cynical. And the opposite of cynicism is not optimism—it’s action. Through the Food Bank, everybody can do something.”
For more information about the Atlanta Community Food Bank, visit www.acfb.org.