Joanna Linden's Work With Capital Area Food Bank is Personal
As told to Kathy Blackwell| March 27, 2015 |
Local philanthropist Joanna Linden leads the charge to create a new Capital Area Food Bank facility with a campaign to raise $10 million in 10 months.
Joanna Linden’s firsthand experience with poverty is one of the reasons she is so passionate about her goal of ending hunger in Central Texas.
“When I joined the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas as chief development officer almost five years ago, I felt a responsibility to help those who were just like I was in my early 20s. I’ve heard it’s easier to win the lottery than to escape poverty, and I feel like I have won the lottery in terms of earning a living and being able to give back. I have devoted my professional life to Austin’s nonprofits: first at Austin Opera and then at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. My primary initiative is now to expand the Food Bank with a new facility that will help feed Central Texans who are at risk of hunger—a percentage of the community growing at nearly double the rate of our population. In September, the Food Bank launched its 10x10 Campaign to raise the remaining $10 million of its goal to raise $20 million in 10 months.
“The Food Bank is like a safety net, providing the emergency-food assistance that I got to experience firsthand. After getting married at a young age, my husband and I didn’t have much. I began my adulthood—and it sounds extreme—in poverty. Just about everything we had was handed down or given to us, and we struggled to put gas in the car and food on the table. It was during this time that I had my first daughter, Abigail.
“Abigail was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that has left her paralyzed and wheelchairbound. Her first five years were full of doctor appointments, hospital stays, and surgeries; in order to take care of her, I dropped out of college and couldn’t work.
“I was on food stamps for a long time and would camp out by the mailbox to wait for them to arrive so I could go to the grocery store and put food in our basket. During my 20s, I worked diligently to make a better life for myself and for Abigail, now 21, and my other daughter, Makenzie, now 17.
“People would never guess I am one to have experienced poverty; they think they know who the hungry are. They think it’s the person on the street corner holding a sign; in reality, many working families are struggling to make ends meet without enough money to buy food. I often think about those in Dove Springs and other areas of Austin who don’t have easy access to produce. I’ll meet kids who don’t even know what a sweet potato is because they’ve never seen one.
“Although Austin often tops the list as the fastest-growing city, with unemployment rates at an all-time low, the gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening. This divide could be the downfall of our city; we’re in a place of plenty, and hunger is absolutely unacceptable in a city like ours. I realize it’s a lofty goal to try to end all the hunger in the world, but ending hunger locally is absolutely possible. One in every four kids in Austin is hungry, and that statistic should bother us. A big part of my job is to educate those who are unaware of this growing problem in our community.
“When the food bank’s facility was built 17 years ago, nobody ever predicted we would outgrow the space that is designed to hold 24 million pounds of food per year. Last year we distributed 29 million pounds of food and were still 30 percent short of the demand. We embarked on a $20 million capital campaign to build a 135,000-square-foot facility that will include a commercial kitchen and double the current warehouse space. The Food Bank is the largest hunger-relief organization in Central Texas; with proper infrastructure, we can turn every donated dollar into $6 worth of food.
“Overcoming poverty was certainly a long road for me. My role with the Food Bank is the first job that allows me to be totally authentic, in the moment, and emotional. I’ve gotten hurt a lot of times in this job, but that’s okay because it feels real and genuine.”