In 2017, Breadwinner donor and volunteer Joel Malard approached us to propose a “social sting operation.” His objective was grassroots job creation – literally one job at a time. He achieved this by funding the salary for our Policy & Advocacy Manager Becky Gershon (pictured above right) for one year. We recently interviewed Joel about what inspired his generous gift.
What prompted you to make such a generous gift to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank?
First, I want to thank all of you at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank for your openness in taking part in my bizarre pilot study about grassroots job creation. Your dedication to your mission, your work, and your vision made a success of what could have been a pointless bet on the human spirit.
After experiencing the ups and downs of working in Silicon Valley start-ups, I was laid off in 2012. My first reaction was to create jobs, drawing on the wisdom of my father who taught me “if you can’t join them, beat them.” He applied this approach to the job market, to education opportunities, to any adversity that life threw at him. So, I set a goal to employ one person for one year – my own “social sting operation.”
During this time of reflection, I remembered stories I had heard about my grandparents generosity: when a traveler came asking for food at their farm, they would give him work, food and shelter for a couple of days, and on his last morning, a packed lunch for the day. It was an old tradition that I could not directly match in these modern times. But I felt compelled to somehow fulfill this tradition in my own way.. As my plan evolved, I decided to delegate the hiring to someone else – and so I reached out to the Food Bank.
The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank was the first Bay Area institution that I contacted. It fulfills an essential, basic human need, and it has a clear mandate and immediate tangible returns to the local community. I had volunteered at the Food Bank and been impressed by its reach and operations. The Food Bank’s location in San Francisco would make a successful pilot study in grassroots job creation both immediately relevant and widely visible.
My donation came with a few strings attached, which I felt were essential for the experience to be positive for everyone. First, the money was for a new position competitively open to all. Second, it had to be fully aligned with the Food Bank’s mission. Third, the new position needed to have a fighting chance of becoming self-funded within a year. As a result, the whole cycle – from writing the job description to hiring a candidate – was solely the responsibility of the Food Bank. It was the right decision.
What policy or advocacy issues are most important to you and why?
Food is always a top priority; as the saying goes, “a famished stomach has no ear.” We will always have needs, but today the misery in San Francisco is heartbreaking. The policy issue that matters most to me is to form outstanding leaders for tomorrow and to plan for the next generation after them, both in regards to professional mastery and moral courage. My donation is an act of faith in the American People and the resilience of its spirit.
What opportunities do you see for California to lead on addressing food insecurity?
California is positioned to lead the nation in addressing food insecurity if only because its agriculture sector is the largest. The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank has a stellar reputation in food distribution and expertise that could benefit other food banks around the USA.
Advocacy, coupled with innovation, is key. A comprehensive plan to address food insecurity must also include housing, water management, and the containment of soil pollution. Clean water distribution, recycling, and desalination are critical to food production worldwide. These are areas where Bay Area entrepreneurs may make a lasting contribution.
Last but not least, CalFresh (food stamps) is remarkable because, among other things, it brings balance to nutrition by making access to fresh, nutritious produce available to low-income neighbors. The balance between a fulfilling piece of bread and a nutritious piece of fish echoes the broader need for balance between basic human needs and the imperatives of society. California Food Banks are, in my opinion, ideally positioned to inform and encourage the lateral thinking and the moral courage required to build a striving community constantly reshaped by technological and financial progress.