Even in our prosperous country, the amber waves of grain don’t quite fill all the hungry bellies. As vice president of development for the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Sarah Fonder-Kristy knows firsthand the extensive need right here all around us. She also knows the powerful impact to be made when we step in to take care of one another.
As a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was a kid who changed her mind a lot. Some of the ones that rotated were teacher, historian or physical therapist. I come from a family of nurses and social workers, so a helping profession was usually part of the discussion.
When did you first become involved with the Atlanta Community Food Bank?
I’ve been working here since 2000. Like many people, my first interaction was volunteering in the food bank’s Product Rescue Center as an undergrad at Emory. What really ignited my passion was seeing the impact of our work at a variety of nonprofit feeding programs around the city, how our partners are able to do more, feed more people because of the work of the food bank.
You have a real passion for public service and volunteerism. Have you always had that focus, or was there a defining moment for you somewhere along the way?
My grandmothers both were widowed, each with five young kids to raise on their own in the early 1950s. They had tremendous struggles but retained a sense of humor, a deep faith and raised strong, healthy families. I was born in Michigan during the auto industry depression, where unemployment touched most families I knew. As my parents worked, they instilled a deep appreciation for the comforts we had. This sense of gratefulness coupled with the knowledge that a disaster like a job loss or death could quickly put a family into need led me to want to serve the community and strengthen the safety net for Atlanta.
Since becoming a mother, I have an even deeper commitment to hunger relief. I see how cranky or distracted my kids get when they get hungry in the normal course of the day. Knowing that other mothers see the same thing but don’t always know where their next meal is coming from is heartbreaking. The fear and stress they live with is unbearable. We can’t expect kids to learn in school, to thrive and meet their potential, if they are hungry.
As vice president of development, what is your vision for ACFB growth?
We have doubled our food distribution in the past four years to respond to dramatic increase in need because of the recession. Despite the recovery, low-income Georgians are still struggling to feed their families. We have more work to do. We have an opportunity to recover more fresh produce from Georgia growers. This will not only impact the food security of the clients we serve, but improved nutrition will also impact their health. And we need more people to help us—more people to give of their time, talent and treasure. Together, we can help Georgians thrive, to grow up healthy, to weather tough times with the support of their neighbors. By helping, we are all helped. In this time of political turmoil, zero-sum gamesmanship, I think we all have an opportunity to turn things around by taking action, by starting small.
How have you seen the organization change since you started?
When I started 13 years ago, we were distributing about 12 million pounds of food to more than 800 nonprofit feeding programs. This past fiscal year, we distributed 45.5 million pounds of food to 600 agencies. We are feeding significantly more people than ever before. We have double the amount of staff, more sophisticated operations, larger logistical demands, and a much more dynamic environment than a decade ago. What hasn’t changed, however, is the central value that we depend on the community to accomplish this work. All that we do is because people join with us, volunteering sorting food donations, growing vegetables in community gardens, working in community food pantries, speaking up for people in need. People are at the heart of what we do.
What’s the overall mission of Atlanta Community Food Bank? Tell us about some of the programs sponsored by ACFB.
Our mission is to fight hunger by engaging, educating and empowering our community. We distribute more than 45 million pounds of food and household products to a network of 600 nonprofit feeding programs in 29 counties in metro Atlanta and north Georgia. People can visit www.acfb.org for more information about all of our programs and ways to get involved. For every dollar donated to the food bank, we’re able to distribute enough food for four meals. We’re a Charity Navigator 4-star rated charity, the top rating you can receive.
What do you think people would be most surprised to know about hunger in our city? Where do you see the greatest need?
Hunger is often hidden in plain sight. One in four kids is at risk of going hungry in Atlanta. More than 735,000 people are living in poverty in the 29 counties we serve. Half of those served by the Atlanta Community Food Bank are kids. I think hunger is most often associated with people who are homeless, but hunger has doubled in the suburbs. We are really focusing on growing our emergency food provider network in the suburbs, places like Gwinnett and Clayton counties.
What kind of events are held to raise awareness and support the work of the ACFB?
I’m always amazed at what the community can create to help fight hunger. Hunger Walk/Run is celebrating 30 years this coming March. I love the diversity of families and friends, companies, neighborhoods, and faith communities that come together to raise funds and awareness of the Georgians in need. It is such a feel good day and makes an incredible impact on the Food Bank’s ability to feed more people. Plus, walking through downtown with a dozen entertainment groups makes the miles fly by! I’m getting ready to kick off my walk team next month.
The Atlanta Apartment Association’s Food-A-Thon every October is a huge inspiration for our staff. More than 500 people come out in costumes and floats to bring in more than 100,000 pounds of food and more than a million dollars. We also have a strong relationship with the hospitality community—people who are passionate about feeding their customers and those in need. Through dining out with our Supper Club, learning from top chefs in our Simple Abundance cooking classes, and galas like Taste of the Nation and The Roast, Atlanta’s incredible culinary talent shines while helping to feed our neighbors.
I’m also so touched to be part of people’s personal celebrations. We’ve have kids who have a food drive for their birthday in lieu of gifts, or as part of their wedding registry. It is such an honor to connect these special life milestones with the Food Bank.
How do you recruit volunteers and what kind of help do you need?
If you have two or three hours to spare, we can put you to work. People can sign-up online at www.acfb.org/volunteer. We’re so thankful for the large community response during the holidays, but would love for people to get involved in the New Year. A big need right now would also be for people to host a food and fund drive.
Who have been some of your greatest mentors?
The women in my family have really defined me. I learned to be passionate about your work, to strive for excellence, and seek opportunities for improvement throughout your career. Bill Bolling, our founder and CEO, is known throughout town as a visionary leader. It has been an honor to work with him. His commitment to bringing people together, to finding solutions to complex issues by connecting a wide range of perspectives and organizations to each other has shaped my approach to community work.
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
Travel is my favorite hobby so there is no shortage of where I’d like to go. We’d like to hike in the Swiss Alps when the kids are old enough for big, challenging hikes. My husband wants to show us the Serengeti. We hope to get to Costa Rica soon. When I have a long time, I’d love to head to New Zealand. We also like to explore the National Parks each summer.
What are you personal Atlanta favorites…the sites, stores, restaurants,whatever?
My kids have fallen in love with the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. We have a family membership that we put to great use. We also like membership at Zoo Atlanta. I love to eat at the many restaurants who support the Food Bank and try new places around town. I love breakfast spots—Thumbs Up is a favorite. My husband and I love to end our date nights at Leon’s Full Service in Decatur.
What book did you just finish reading, or what’s at the top of your must-read list?
Up next is The Why Axis by by Uri Gneezy, John List and Steven Levitt.
Other than Faith, Family, and Friends — What are three things you couldn’t live without?
- National Parks—they’re a significant part of our family traditions.
- A good night’s sleep.
- Incredible teachers for my kids. We’re so thankful for the inspiration and creativity they bring to their lives.
Sarah, we thank you, and all of Atlanta thanks you for the incredible dedication you show in your inspiring work. We encourage our StyleBlueprint readers to follow Sarah’s suggestion and check out the Atlanta Community Food Bank website (acfb.org) for information on how to get more involved. The need is great, and the time to act is now.
Thank you, Cat Maxwell, for your fantastic photos.