Mayor Dean Helps Unload as Angels Roll in with Food for the Needy
Having heard the calls for help and seeing the dire conditions there, Pastor Joe Wingo, CEO of Angel Food rallied support
Category Archives: Evangelsim
Mayor Dean Helps Unload as Angels Roll in with Food for the Needy
One of my earlier accomplishments and my start working in the world of Christian Evangelists. This story was on a former client, Dr. K.A. Paul which I helped him get one year after I left the firm I was at, and two months after Dr. Paul brought me on a mission to Haiti to counsel the rebel leader Guy Philippe after he helped hasten Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s departure. We also handed out 50 thousand pounds of food to needy people on the streets of Port Au Prince.
Dr. Paul called me a few days ago saying he was going to Haiti to help in the healing efforts.
Getting up at two in the morning to head to work is never fun, of that I am certain. Yet, this morning in Bakersfield, California, could not have been more fun, more interesting or even more meaningful.
We flew in late from Georgia, and landed at about six thirty Pacific time, having first worked all morning on the East Coast. First to dinner, than to an early bed in order to rise and be at the host site parking lot by three to meet the two tractor trailers from National Carriers, Angel Food Ministries‘ official carrier for this month’s 560 thousand boxes of food relief we just distributed. What made this trip so important to us – Pastor Joe Wingo and the Ministry Development team – was that this host site in Bakersfield has risen from an obscure new entry in a state with yet a relatively low saturation for Angel Food, to the single largest host site distribution point in America. Bakersfield Compassion Christian Center and its Pastor, Martha Johnson, began with AFM in November 2008 with an impressive opener of 304 boxes to the even more impressive 2858 boxes we handed out today.
With almost seamless precision, the cold and dark parking lot of the Center transformed before us. From a cosmic empty space with just two giant rigs lit with small running lights illuminating the area like a far off runway in the blackened distance of a clear sky, idling gently in the chilly California wind, into a professionally run open-aired warehouse where every item has its place, ready for the vast undertaking about to commence.
A small group of volunteers began maneuvering a donated forklift, easily taking every palette off the rigs and placing them around the edges of the lot, marked by tables with tags identifying the food items designated for the space. Within 90 minutes, both trucks were empty; the dry goods first, followed by the refrigerated items on the second semi. Now we just had to wait. The night sky was still deep, the stars shone bright and my two daughters, accompanying me for this distribution visit, stared out in wonder at the terrific sky, convinced that this is something they don’t usually experience looking up above our New York City skyline. We waited a while, and then, much like at the end of Field of Dreams, as the headlights appeared to spiral down the path to the plowed cornfield, people started to come.
As the sun rose, and the California night ebbed, bowing to the hot sun Southern California is known and loved for, the parking lot started looking like a day at a bustling street festival. A staging area was set with speakers and a sound system playing light fare gospel, tent areas were set with seats to protect those who sought it from the sun. A line was formed in the most orderly fashion that eventually wrapped around the block, while the most patient people waited to start collecting their Angel Food. The Christian Center set this up in a way worthy of duplication. The registration table in the center met the recipients, signed them in and a band of high school football players, the team coach and other students wearing orange vests acted as runners, and used grocery shopping carts to help collect the morning catch for every one of the seemingly unwearied.
There was prayer, music, coffee, cake, muffins and later, barbecue. There was media, and there was cheer and camaraderie. There were church goers, non-believers, whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, families, singles, seniors, young, straight and gay alike, and there was the spirit of America on that block, in the parking lot. It was a beautiful thing to see, as Angel Food Ministries stood over this blessed event as an organization that did not merely provide food relief, but as one that provided a reason to come out and spend a day volunteering and helping, talking among friends, playing and singing and eating. It hit me with great smile, as I read a biased news story out of York, Pennsylvania, these so called journalists don’t want to get it, but these people before me do. Angel Food Ministries is about community, family and building bridges. It about feeding people, but it is also about people helping people, and people wanting to help others and feel good about it. It is about America at its best.
Looking at the simplest form of the business model, Sam Walton, of Wal-Mart fame became a multi billionaire and was revered, and still remembered, as a shrewd businessman. People may fault him for presumed contributions to the erosion of domestic trade, wage and benefit abuse of low income and even migrant workers, but no one attacked the wealth he amassed doing it. Arguably, Wal-Marts are exactly what destroyed communities as they moved in and wiped out the small business, chased families into poverty, and drove others away from small town America seeking elusive city jobs.
Pastor Joe Wingo, on the other hand, built a model that performs the very opposite of that. It makes people want to work for people, it builds neighborhoods and solidifies neighbors as friends, it brings people to houses of worship to pick up their food with the hope that some dynamic pastors, preachers or rabbis can convince them to come in for a service. It grows communities, plants churches and develops enduring relationships in towns and cities across America. Yet, for that insight and hard work, he has been vilified in jealous circles for making a salary. Mind you, it pales in comparison to wages earned by big corporation CEOs, and even the salaries of some of the large national non profit organizations that do little more than beg for money, simply to redistribute a portion back to people and initiatives for which each is set to do. Still, Joe Wingo’s salary and CEO of a $140 million organization that feeds hundreds of thousands without seeking donations, develops community minded programs, returns millions into local communities, and gives people hope in an era where hope seems to fade, is a source for contention.
As Pastor Joe walked around and greeted the eager people, he was received as a celebrity. A woman broke down and cried to him, saying that she was seeking a way to give back, and Angel Food was the answer to her prayers. Children shook his hand, silver foxes hugged our charming CEO, and the California Senate Majority Leader prepared a special award and proclamation for Joe and Linda Wingo. Apparently they are doing something right, and as long as the people who rely on this food for their well being are pleased, perhaps the naysayers should not matter. Pastor Wingo spoke to ABC television about his vision and the need for food, and we were handed food for the plane ride home.
Little Pink Houses lined the streets around the church where we were this morning, and all I could think of was John Mellencamp’s song. Joe Wingo and Angel Food Ministries is the best of America, and helps ensure that the best in Americans come out with every order taken and every distribution made. Ain’t that America? We saw the America that I believe in, that we need to see more of and that my kids know they haven’t seen up close quite like this today.
On Saturday, March 3, 2009, during the Sabbath prayers, Jewish worshippers listened to the portion known as Parshat Zachor (The Chapter of Remembrance). God commanded Jews to never forget the deeds of Esau’s grandson, Amalek. Oddly enough, the Amalekites survived, seemingly through the ages, to hunt down the Jews and continue their persecution because of simple compassion of the very people Amalek was born to destroy.
In Samuel 1, 15:2-3, God says, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
Yet, when King Saul has the opportunity to do just that, he waged war against Amalek and wins, but at the request of his subjects, the cattle are spared, and worse perhaps, Saul’s misplaced mercy allows Agag, the king of the Amalekites, to live. As the poet Robert Frost said it so eloquently many thousands of years later, after two roads diverged in a yellow wood, Saul chose a path “that has made all the difference”.
Such is life when misguided kindness leads to ruin. It is a harsh lesson, and many kind souls are unable to learn, so they get themselves hurt in the end. It is good to be good, and charitable to be lenient and forgiving. The Lord’s Prayer advises dutiful Christians to “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and Jews derive from Genesis, 20:17, that “Abraham prayed to God and God healed Abimelech“.
Yet, we learn from Amalek that we need to be cautious in how we dole out that forgiveness. Many times wolves appear in sheep’s clothing, and we fail to see them before it is too late. Yet, other times the wolves appear as they are, and we just see a cute, cuddly animal. That’s humanity, but it can bite back hard.
A true test of faith and human spirit is in the ability to measure the need to forgive and overlook transgressions, with the need to douse out the flames of the wicked.
This is but a prelude to a bigger story. Stay tuned…
Spending time in small town America, coming from New York, I believe I took some things for granted. Lately, I have been getting to know a side of the country that I don’t believe many people see, and what they think they know, often tends to be stereotypes derived from pop culture and media. Sure, some of that exists, no doubt, but for the most part people are people. Big City people have big city issues; small town people have small town issues. Yet as human beings, we all share similar desires, perhaps to live and love, hope and dream, grow and prosper. From the City, I tend to think and move fast; surely many of us like to drive fast, but certainly there is a more laid back attitude down South. Within any group of people there is political posturing, social cliques, and both, energetic and lazy people.
Depeche Mode, the 1980s synthesized music band, or new wave group, had a song, “People are People so why should it be, you and I should get along so awfully.” Now, I admit that I liked the song back then, but my love has been and always will be real rock, I’m usually not into the synthesized Euro stuff, yet the song which I can sing by heart has some truth. Whether it small town USA, or in my City, people are people; different methods, different foods, but not so different, really.
It’s taken some time to realize this, yet I am learning fast. Through my travels across the “Bible Belt,” and even more now working within a Christian ministry, I have come to know more than I did from my ivory tower in New York. Perception might be reality, but reality is all too often distorted to create an unfair perception.
As a Jewish New Yorker, I learned to be tougher and more wary of an unfriendly world out there. Reading and watching news on Israel is a painful example of how Jews are perceived worldwide. Watching financial scandals across the country and seeing Jewish names attached generated a flurry of anti-Semitic rants in emails, cyberspace and even in small towns across the USA. I imagined what my reception would be like in this small country city, and was nervous about how people, many of whom have never really personally known someone of Jewish faith, would receive me.
Now, I had my first direct experience working for evangelical pastor and Christian Zionist John Hagee. I found, for a national figure, he is down to earth and friendly, warm and caring, and just a nice person. Without even getting to into his beliefs, of which I spent so much time understanding and even defending as his PR agent, as a person, he is a decent guy. Quite a change from other public personalities; has anyone heard the Christian Bale recordings, or remember Russell Crowe‘s tirade?
Now, fully immersed in the world of a Christian Ministry, I see a lot more, learn a lot more and have been inspired. People here pray more than I see people do, and t hey truly believe with a faith many of my own could use. Yet more, they live the way they believe. Caring, decent and loving; it defines southern hospitality.
Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing a sermon about living life right, respecting one’s parents and being the best you could be. The pastor spoke of her inspiration and where she learned life’s important lessons: we all needed to be tolerant of others, to be thoughtful to the people you meet on the way up through life, and that we are all replaceable, and should therefore should avoid pretentiousness. Those pearls came from a close Jewish friend of hers. The Pastor proudly attributed those teachings to Jewish values (and they very well should be), and proclaimed such to her flock. It made me happy to hear.
What brought it home for me was just today, in her home, she showed me a book that she reads regularly for inspiration – The Artscroll book on the Chofetz Chaim, “A lesson a Day“. After my stereotypes had been shattered, realizing that not all people speak badly of others and not everyone hates for hate’s sake, I opened her book to find that my Christian Pastor friend, who I have come to respect in every way, had underlined passages forbidding Sinat Chinam (Baseless Hatred) and Lashon Hora (Gossiping and Evil Talk).
I guess what I really learned is that I still have so much to learn, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world this would be if we all learned those very lessons this pastor is proud to study.
My career has taken me to many places, shown me fantastic experiences and introduced me to some very incredible people. From politics to policy, stateside and overseas, corporate and philanthropy, I have had the pleasure of enjoying my work almost all of the time. Public relations, when done right and for the right clients, allows freedom of expression and skill, and can put you in front of people whom most never get to meet.
I have walked with state, national and world leaders, dined with celebrities, counseled the super wealthy, handed out food to wanting hands in Haiti after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted; and I advocated for Israel throughout every job I have held. I always came home with wonderful stories about some excitement or another. Some can get up and go to work every day and simply do it for the paycheck, but I always sought out more than that. My career has helped me achieve the paycheck and what my wife calls “the glory”. Sure it has been exciting and does have glorious aspects to it, but it is the fun and the meaning that engage me. My most meaningful experience was when I helped Christopher Reeve on his quest for better stem cell technology. That one trip connected both my profession and a huge passion of mine – Israel. I accompanied this incredible and incredibly driven man to Israel to tour its stem cell labs and to meet children affected by spinal injury or birth defects. Never before has any one person inspired me as he did. I was so proud of Israel for the message it sent the world, I was proud of Reeve for his courage and just proud for being able to be there.
A by-product or PR, and maybe not a great one, my name has appeared in newspapers throughout the years. Whether I considered a run for New York City Council in 1997, my challenge to make the Lower East Side a neighborhood for Orthodox Jews to move into, or over my family’s bialy bakery (Kossar‘s) that my wife runs, our choice of credit card clearing houses, other politicians I represented, Christian movie makers, a dynamic Indian evangelist and a host of other times, including my own letters to the editor, I have been written about, quoted and even contributed my own work.
I have also received bad press too, some deserved, and mostly from blogs and the untamed and unnamed posters to such – usually for client work, and usually from the left when it was a so-called right-leaning client. So, I have seen the power of the press to do good and to harm. The harm hurts, trust me. Yet, we move on.
I do have one comment on this matter, and it is to the nature of the mean spirited posters to blogs. In my 18 years of doing this work, I never encountered such a level of low-hitting nastiness that stays with anyone for the life of the Internet. Bloggers themselves have free reign to write what they wish – for right and for ill purposes. Yet, those who believe that they are taking a “high” road by never censoring the comments are vastly contributing the scandal that holds back the power of the Internet. The bloggers who attacked what they think they know about me fuel the fire, yet the height of the painful rhetoric came primarily from commentators who just wrote nasty, presumptuous disparaging remarks – about me and about members of my family.
This is what I found the most difficult. Reporters wrote as fact what they merely assumed, bloggers ran with the ball to satisfy the need for viewers using the notion of “the bigger the scandal, the bigger the click-through proceeds”, yet the hoards of anonymous posters, seemingly scared to use their real names to attack others (makes you wonder what they have to hide or the credibility of their information) are relentless.
I challenge anyone who felt the need to write about me with a pseudonym to talk to me directly. Let’s see the bold and self-righteous step up.
As I see it now, there is so much more to do, and so many more experiences to be had. I decided to leave agency public relations to pursue other interests. I now want to focus on people and work that I care about deeply without the noise of the work we often need to do to pad the ledger columns. I will be working with a non-profit agency that found a unique way to feed people in need while not seeking donations and handouts. In fact, it sends money back into the communities that it serves.
Admittedly I had a rough year. Yet, my experience could either make me retreat or come back stronger. I choose the latter.I began this blog with the hope that I will be posting regularly. My new job is similar to what I have been doing passionately for some time, but will put me where I can do more good, still be challenged and continue doing the parts of my career that have made be happiest.
To turn into something
I could believe in…
This is the time of my life.”