Every so often, if we are lucky, someone truly amazing crosses our path. For me, this person is Joyce Rothermel. To those that know her, she is a tiny woman with a big life force that has worked her entire life to help others. From the noble idea that everyone deserves to live life without hunger, a small project became a lifetime goal that has resulted in what is now the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank(GPCFB). Her vision has helped create other organizations, as well as provided a voice for those that might otherwise go unheard. She is known not just in Pittsburgh, but around the country for her work in feeding and advocating for the impoverished.
But, it is more than the accomplishments she has under her belt that make her something special. I first met Joyce Rothermel at the Empty Bowls Dinner this year. Being an advocate for hunger awareness, as well as always wanting to connect people to great stories as a correspondent for Pittsburgh On Video, I asked Joyce to talk with me on camera. I have no real explanation for what happened when we went aside to start her interview.
We sat down and discussed a few things before starting the camera to get ourselves on the same page. And then, I looked into her eyes. If it is true that the eyes are the windows to the soul, then hers is the most pure and honest I have ever known. Just being in her presence brought me to tears. I am sure she thought I was a bit odd, although she was most gracious and said nothing, even though I had to stop the camera and restart our interview. Words can’t really describe what it is like when you’re with Joyce. Her smile is infectious and somehow she combines sweetness with determination. When you are with her, you just know you are with someone special. I still get weepy when I think of our meeting or read and watch things about her. I’m envious of people who work with her.
After 30 years of being the founder and CEO of the GPCFB, Joyce Rothermel retired from her position on June 30th. I have to say, I was a little sad to have met her at the end of her tenure. In our brief meeting she inspired me to be just a little better than I was before; to give more of myself to others when possible; to keep goals and dreams in focus- both mine and those of others. She motivates me to think bigger and be kinder. And she probably has no idea of the effect she has on others.
I approached Christopher Whitlatch who curates the Pittsburgh On Video site for the Pittsburgh Foundation with the idea of putting together a video tribute piece as a correspondent with people who have worked or interacted with Joyce. The idea was then developed as a feature for their online bi-monthly non-profit news show, Unsung. With his help, we put out the word and gathered several individuals who shared their thoughts about Joyce with me. The following is Unsung-Episode 5 with a clip of my interviews:
I’m grateful to have met Ms. Rothermel. Her impact in our brief meeting will last a lifetime. She has such infallible logic and a keen sense of what is needed. Her vision reaches a broad spectrum and her focus is one step ahead of others. Her pure love of humanity and dedication to meeting the needs of those less fortunate is inspiring. We could all take a lesson from her book of life.
To Joyce, I would say thank you for being the person you are. Your tireless work and dedicated efforts have meant and will continue to mean the world to so many. You are not just a true hero to us, you are like a patron saint to the hungry.
Simply Put- One person really can make a difference in the lives of others.
Full interviews will be available on Pittsburgh On Video‘s Unsung-Uncut soon. Anyone that has a story about or thought for Joyce Rothermel is invited to leave a comment to this post.
22 million pounds of food.
11 SW Pennsylvania counties.
2,500 new households per month.
380+ member agencies, including smaller food banks.
Ensuring that our neighbors and their families have basic needs of life met.
That is what the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank does for our communities.
For many people the name “food bank” is recognizable, but it’s like a lot of things in our society- you think of the it as something that’s just always been there. For people you don’t know. Or maybe you identify it as a government agency that gives out food. You might think it is self-supporting and doesn’t need your help. You’d be wrong.
The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank(GPCFB) is not a government-run agency. Based in a LEED-certified “green” warehouse, it is a non-profit organization founded on the simplistic, yet monumental idea that we should worry about our neighbor’s basic needs. It’s arrival 30 years ago came from and inspires a passion for change, a call to serve. A need to fill.
So you think now, what can I possibly do? Or you say, someone else will do it. It’s not my problem. I don’t have time. My bills are high too, how can I donate? Maybe you’re so jaded with the thought that ‘things never change, so nothing I do will make a difference anyway’.
What if Joyce Rothermel, co-founder and CEO of GPCFB had said that back in 1980? Where would the hungry in the greater Pittsburgh area be now? Statistics say that 1 in 9 Pennsylvanians (statistics from the GPCFB reports 1 in 7 people in our region) are hungry or “food insecure”- meaning they don’t have the resources to ensure that a healthy meal can go on the table consistently. Somewhere in your town, on your street, and in your school’s there are hungry families.
Hunger is prevalent everywhere. Growing up in a rural community, those who struggle to provide a meal think that people living in the larger towns or the city fare better than they do. Those that live in the city assume that rural areas aren’t afflicted with the same hunger issues as they are. The grass is not greener on either side. All ages, social statuses, residential areas, and employment circumstances face the stress of an empty table.
Now imagine there was nowhere to fill the nutritional gap; no one to motivate us into action; no programs or standards to make feeding our friends, family, coworkers, neighbors a priority. Strip away your political affiliations and preconceived notions of people who receive food and other assistance and think of your daughter, brother, best friend or team coach going to bed hungry each night.
Thankfully, we have somewhere to turn that keeps up on the latest information, has designed and implemented award-winning programs and structured the efficient distribution of donated items. The mission of the GPCFB “is to feed the hungry in southwestern Pennsylvania through a network of partners and to mobilize our region to end hunger.” As Joyce Rothermel shared with me in the interview at the Empty Bowls dinner, “…the most vulnerable people in our society have to be taken care of…and (we must ensure) that the level of funding that we have is sufficient for them to take care of their basic needs.”
The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank has a 3 decade history of helping people in need. It is more than a mission, though. It is an attitude- of compassion, of service and of healing. Reviewed by members, donors and recipients at www.greatnonprofits.org, one can see that the people who enable the GPCFB to support it’s mission are feeding not just the body’s need, but that of the human spirit as well.
Talking to those at GPCFB, the one thing that is emphasized repeatedly is the word community in the title. The food bank serves the community and is always in need of volunteers, donations and the shared voice of individuals in the counties it assists. It’s easy to not think about the time, effort, organization, dedication and proactive stance it took to start and maintain a vast-encompassing organization like GPBFC. The really hard work has been done. With small acts from each of us we can further the reach and impact. We just need to become part of the Community. Be active, be involved and be supportive of the mission and help “end hunger in our lifetime.” There are simple things to do right from your computer, too. Find out more about how you can help at GPCFB’s website.
Simply Put- Countless people’s lives are enriched through the efforts of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.