published Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

A retirement at the Food Bank

The Chattanooga Area Food Bank is one of the community's outstanding success stories. It is a major enterprise that serves about 20,000 people in the area in each week in an efficient manner without undue fanfare. It is, in a word, successful.

That's no accident. The success is attributable to several factors. The agency does not try to do too many things. It has a clearly defined mission -- to provide food to those in the region who cannot provide it for themselves and their families. It regularly meets that goal with the help of a dedicated core of workers and administrative personnel, devoted volunteers and advocates and the unstinting cooperation of a host of corporate and commercial allies. It is an enviable combination.

In addition, the Food Bank has enjoyed strong community support over the years. A strong cadre of civic and church leaders joined by concerned citizens organized the food bank in the early 1980s. Its mission then -- quite similar to its current one -- was to collect surplus food from the food industry in the area and to then share it with the community's needy. Public and private support for the agency has never faltered.

Indeed, that support has allowed the Food Bank to greatly increase its reach. In its first year, it distributed 600,000 pounds of food. Last year, it provided 11.9 million pounds of food to residents and agencies in 20 area counties. That is, by any measure, an amazing accomplishment.

Much of that growth was achieved under the leadership of Clare Sawyer, who served as executive director of the Food Bank for 15 years until her retirement last week. Sawyer's accomplishments are many -- and worth noting. Under her guidance, the agency's reach has extended far and wide, programming has expanded and the Food Bank moved to a new, larger and more efficient space. Sawyer is the first to say none of it would have happened without the help and support of staff and community.

She's right in many ways, but she undeniably was a catalyst for change and growth. Her vision and leadership was a driving forces in the Food Bank's expansion and increased service to the community. For that she was properly honored at a retirement party last week.

It was a relatively small gathering, but it could have been larger -- if community supporters of the Food Bank and if the tens of thousands of individuals assisted by the agency during Sawyer's tenure had been able to join the festivities.

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