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Chairman’s Corner: The Value of $32

Bread for the City launched its first Holiday Helpings campaign in 1996. Back then, $26 bought a turkey with all the trimmings, and Bread had the grandiose goal of raising $20,000 and providing 800 turkey dinners. I had already been a donor to Bread for several years, and had volunteered through my job as well, so I knew that Bread for the City was the real thing. A front-line Shaw-based organization dedicated to helping those living with low incomes with dignity and respect, I knew that Bread was right there in the community, staffed with about 25 people, mostly from the neighborhood, giving monthly groceries to the clients who fell short on food every month, because food stamps never covered all their needs.

The idea of providing a full turkey dinner, with all the trimmings, for a family to cook and enjoy with dignity in their own home for Thanksgiving, sparked my imagination. For my family, Thanksgiving was THE family holiday, and my mother never had such joy as when all her relatives (and friends without a place to go) were gathered around our table. There was such a sense of joy, completeness and coming together of loving family that it suffused the holiday, and every memory I have of it, with a glow that has never departed. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of it, to help others to have the blessing of a Thanksgiving table laden with food and surrounded by grateful family.

Thus began my 22-year commitment to Holiday Helpings. Because my firm had a connection already with Bread, I went to the head of the firm and told him that we should participate. He told me it was a great idea – and that I should go around the office and ask for contributions. Well, I’d never done that before, but I was on fire to make a difference for all those families who wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving if the money wasn’t raised. So I went around the office and asked people. People were delighted to be a part of this kind of campaign, and they were generous. They understood how important a real Thanksgiving was, and what a difference it made. Within a day I had raised $10,000 in individual donations! When I called Bread, that’s when they told me that the whole goal of the campaign – for the whole city – was $20,000!

Fast forward 22 years. Bread now serves 34,000 people a year with food, medical and dental care, legal services, social services, clothing, job training, and more. We have 100 employees in two Centers: the original Center in Shaw that is more than double its original size, and a second Center in Southeast DC that is about to have a 27,000 square foot replacement Center built across the street. Our budget from 1996 was $800,000; our budget in 2018-19 is $11.5 million. Though Bread began its work 44 years ago, the last 22 – under CEO George Jones – have been years of dramatic growth. Bread is now recognized as one of the premier non-profits in DC, winning prize after prize, award after award, and still serving its clients under its watchwords of Dignity, Respect, Service and Justice.

And it still gives me a glow to help others have a Thanksgiving at home with their families. This was driven home for me one year when one of the new employees at my firm showed up at my office with his contribution to buy a family a Thanksgiving dinner. I was touched – I knew he wasn’t making a lot of money and I thanked him for his generosity. His response stopped me in my tracks and, frankly, brought tears to my eyes. He said that when he was a child he didn’t have a Thanksgiving dinner unless his mother was able to get a turkey and the trimmings from Bread for the City. And now that he had a job, he wanted to make sure that some other family had a Thanksgiving like Bread for the City made for him.

It touched me deeply because unless you live with the daily grind of low income, you don’t process how rare all the rich experiences of our society are for its poorest members. I knew that we gave out thousands of Thanksgiving turkeys but there is a cognitive and experiential leap between giving out bags of turkeys and food, and the understanding that a family would not have dinner that holiday without that gift. That is the gift of Holiday Helpings.

This year, with your generous help, we will give turkeys and groceries for a holiday meal for 9,000 families, who otherwise would just have to make do. While it is holy work to provide food to those who do not have it, it is all that much more special and meaningful to allow others to experience the holiday as we all do, to allow them to forget the daily burdens and celebrate their family togetherness.

A gift of $32 now buys the turkey dinner for a family, up just $6 from 22 years ago, because we have buying power and purchase carefully. All of your gift goes to buy turkeys and the trimmings in support of our food program. Please give, and if you are as moved as I am by the thought of changing the holiday for multiple families, please give a multiple of $32.

Your own Thanksgiving will feel all that much more warm.

Happy holiday to all.


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