Bill Bolling would have made a fantastic capitalist. But luckily for Atlanta, he’s chosen to take all his drive, vision, creativity, and leadership skills and exert them on behalf of the underserved. In 31 years at the helm of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Bolling has continuously reinvented the organization– making it a model of ingenuity and logistical efficiency that does far more than simply give away food.
It all started when Bolling returned from serving in Vietnam and started working in a community food kitchen. He quickly found his “social entrepreneur legs,” as he puts it, and went to churches and synagogues all over the city and told them if they would open their doors to feed the hungry, he would provide all the food. A startling number agreed, and the Food Bank was in business.
Bolling went to Kroger, Publix and even Wal-Mart, convinced them that it was a smarter business decision to donate food to ACFB than to throw it away, then planned the complex transportation and distribution logistics to make that happen. Next, he approached the hospitality industry, whose reluctance to give away prepared food had everything to do with liability. So Bolling got the Good Samaritan food bill passed, and now hotels, restaurants and institutions give away 40,000 pounds of food every month through Atlanta’s Table.
Today, ACFB distributes 25 million pounds of food and donated grocery items to 700 nonprofit partner agencies in 38 counties in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia a year. But Bolling’s vision has never been just about food – it’s about engaging, educating and empowering the community. So in addition to 100 full-time staff people, the ACFB coordinates 1,000 volunteers a month – to get people involved and invested.
AFCB has built 175 Community Gardens in schools, parks and neighborhoods to bring communities closer to their food sources and reduce family food budgets. It’s created Hunger 101, a course to teach the basics of hunger and poverty to volunteers and youth leaders. And the Prosperity Campaign offers tax and financial help, to bring money-saving benefits to working families.
Because people who need food also probably have children in low-income schools, Bolling started the Kids In Need program – a free store for educators, where teachers from low-income schools can shop for their classrooms from 200,000 pounds of brand-new school and art supplies –that Bolling, in his phenomenally creative way, gets donated from conventions and corporations.
Opportunistic, bold, and visionary, Bolling sees the big, complex picture of poverty and is prepared to fight it on all fronts. “We’re just getting warmed up here,” Bolling promises. “I’m surrounded by hope!”
Knowing he’s out there tearing it up for hunger, I’m surrounded by hope, too! Click here to donate to this fabulous organization. And if you’re in Atlanta, come volunteer at AFCB — it’ll feed your soul.