How the founders of Share Our Strength are working to end childhood hunger, Part II

By Patricia Gentry

This is part two of our interview with the founders of Share Our Strength, Bill Shore and Debbie Shore, siblings who launched the organization in 1984.  Last week, we shared our interview with Billy Shore. Read on for our chat with Debbie.

No Kid Hungry and the programs of Share Our Strength have been successful in creating long-term social change and connecting kids with food where they live, learn and play. What has been your recipe for success?

Debbie (D): I don’t think that we have found the recipe for success in all categories to date; I think we were successful because we brought a lot of people to table. We didn’t just talk to ourselves. We brought together government officials, hunger leaders, business leaders, and local activists to one collaborative table. This was one key ingredient.

We are most successful in on one area which is school breakfast and looking at [our success] as something we can replicate. I can’t say we are at the same place with the other parts of our strategy. But because we are measuring our success quarterly, it is keeping us on track and its forcing us to adjust and be nimble about what’s working and what is not working. At each stage of our progress, we are measuring, evaluating and adjusting, which means we have a better chance at being successful.

Share Our Strength has a keen ability to bring people from all walks of life around the table – business and nonprofit leaders, policy makers, volunteers, and so on. How do you get everyone to work together to ensure you have an impact?

D: Part of the answer is in Billy’s book, The Cathedral Within, of cathedral building. It’s a long-term, longer than our term, effort. Hopefully this won’t be longer than our physical term. These intractable social problems are complex and take a long time to turn the tide. I sent a note to Gordon Hamersley, who is a longtime supporter to say I know he will be with us at the finish line when we cross it. He’s been with us from the beginning. It’s unfortunate how long it takes. It’s not easy…this decision, this commitment to end childhood hunger. It’s not for the faint-hearted. You have to be committed for the long-haul and you have to find the right people who are just as committed to the work.

Given all of these stakeholders, how do you make sure you have the right incentives so that everyone has an equal stake in the outcomes?

D: It’s a constant reinforcement of the work at hand. We have people who have been part of the organization before No Kid Hungry and getting them to understand that Share Our Strength is part of something beyond their local market is a challenge. Like everything else we aren’t all there, but we have made huge progress in getting people enthused and embracing the idea that success in one place helps them be successful in their place. I don’t know that we can ever be sure but we have to keep reinforcing these core themes and show the collective impact of our work.

Switching gears a little bit…I’m going to take you back to when you were new to the field. What do wish someone would have told you early on when you decided to do this work?

D: That’s a great question; I was so wide-eyed, naive and bushy-tailed. Honestly, to me, not for the impact for our work, but those are the sweetest days in my view because every win was so big. We were starting from zero. We had no winning strategies to talk about, no history to tout, and no best practices. We just had an idea and we were enthusiastic about it. We didn’t set out to end childhood hunger and everything led us to where we are today. I can’t say that I wish I would have known then that we would end up here, but I’m glad we did. It’s giving us the tools and what’s required to do something really, really huge – really historical. I never stop to think about it very much unless someone stops to ask me, not because I’m so caught up in the cause, but I’m caught up in the everyday work and talking to people about our work. There is so much to be excited about all the time. I would say, I was surprised about how hard it was to raise money, to fundraise, how much work it takes. It’s not easy. I didn’t realize that, but maybe it is better that I didn’t know (as Debbie smiles).

What’s the one thing that you have been able to do for yourself so that you can stay in it for the long-haul?

D: I think of a few things. I’ll reference Gordon Hamersley again. When I think of people like him who have been at this from the beginning, it makes me want to work harder every day. Also part of it is that when I became a mother, I had a deeper understanding of our commitment, not that I cared more, but a different understanding of what it means to feed a child. It became personal and in my face. Our commitment to end childhood hunger verses fighting it was reinvigorating for me and working with my brother has been a big inspiration and continues to be. I don’t think I would feel as inspired if I didn’t work alongside him. The people that we attract are so great and so inspiring. Put the cause together with our network and how can you not be inspired.

This post first appeared on Idealist Careers, helping you find, land, and love your social impact career.

Patricia Gentry is the senior operations manager at Share Our Strength where she supports over 80 culinary events including Taste of the Nation® and No Kid Hungry dinners across America. She is also a member of YNPNdc’s membership engagement committee.

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