Author Archives: Melody Wattenbarger
We recently hired a gentleman in his 50s to work in our warehouse. You are probably thinking that is something that happens fairly regularly, and you are correct in thinking that. What made this hire so special is that the man we hired had not had regular work or a place of his own to live in for many years. Now that he works for us, he has been able to get his own place, and he is very, very grateful. We hired him after he worked for us as a temp for a while. We were able to see first-hand how incredibly reliable and hardworking he is, so we hired him for our first available permanent position. The sad fact is that if we had not known him as a temp, he would simply not have come on our radar. If he had just applied within a pool of job seekers, we would not have selected him for an interview. He just doesn’t have the education or experience of many of the other people looking to work for us. And in passing him over, we would have missed out on a truly amazing employee, and he would have missed his chance for independence, self-reliance and restored self-esteem. How sad that missed chance would have been for all of us!
Roadrunner just wouldn’t exist without our dozens of food industry donors. Day after day they donate food that they can’t sell for a variety of reasons. Over the course of the year it adds up to more than 20 million pounds of food that doesn’t end up in the landfill. That’s really good for the environment. And, more important, that food feeds some of New Mexico’s thousands of hungry people. Last week we threw a party in our warehouse to say a heartfelt public thank you to the businesses that have helped us fulfill our mission for nearly 34 years. We were truly honored that Governor Susana Martinez took time from her very busy schedule to come to the food bank to help us show our appreciation to our food donors. Governor Susana Martinez pictured with Dr. Eugene Sun, the Food Bank’s Board Chairman and Melody Wattenbarger, President and CEO of the Food Bank The Governor spoke to the donors about the hunger she had seen among children in her previous work as a prosecutor. She said that childhood hunger was something that she saw every day. She spoke about the toll that hunger takes on the most vulnerable of our citizens. And she spoke eloquently about our moral imperative to do something about this issue and to raise New Mexico’s standing from worst in the country for childhood hunger.
The old expression about a rising tide lifting all boats is one that I have admittedly used myself. Sometimes it seems just right, and I throw it into what I am saying. I use it less and less these days because I find that it is less and less true. And in the food bank world that I live in, the old saw is almost universally incorrect. Food banks around the country started in the depths of a very deep recession in the early 1980s. Inflation was rampant. Oil and gas prices were at record highs. Unemployment had climbed and stayed at elevated levels for a long time. Out of this environment, John van Hengel in Phoenix created the idea of rescuing surplus food from food businesses and channeling that food to the growing numbers of hungry people in the country. Incredibly, that idea has since grown into the Feeding America network of food banks, the largest private sector feeding organization in the United States.
Thirty years ago when I worked in my first food bank in Amarillo, we always talked about the dual nature of our mission. We have always existed to feed hungry people, and the most important part of every communication we have ever delivered is about who is hungry, about how many hungry people there are, and about the effects of hunger on individuals and on our society. In thirty years that message has never changed, never wavered, never been diluted. And it never will be as long as we exist. We have always had another aspect to our work—one that is also very, very important. Somewhere along the way over the decades, we stopped talking about this other aspect of our work. We were certainly created in the beginning to feed hungry people. The main way we did that was—and still is—to take food that would otherwise go to waste and channel that food to hungry people. I wrote in another blog about the amount of food we waste in our country and about the environmental impact of all of that food ending up in landfills. I can’t quit thinking about the fact that a quarter of the methane gas in our atmosphere is the result of food ending up in the landfills rather than being eaten.
I spend a great deal of time thinking about what motivates people to do things. Since I supervise people (seven of them at the moment), I find it helpful to understand what drives them to the excellence I see all of the time here at the food bank. Also, people in nonprofits really need to understand motivation because the willingness of our donors to give their time, talent, food and money literally keeps the food bank’s lights on and our doors open. If people aren’t motivated to give generously, we literally can’t function. I read a surprising, eclectic mix of books to try to get a handle on motivation. I have read about climbing Mt. Everest, about winning repeatedly in the Olympics, about being adrift in a dingy on the ocean, about being the first person to explore a new continent, about jumping out of airplanes, about participating in high risk medical experiments and many other things that have never and will never be part of my real life. For me it all finally came together in a coherent theory when I read Daniel Pink’s book Drive.