Empowering Those in Need

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bill Bolling ’76 has worked to feed the hungry in north Georgia since 1979 by establishing the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Once working out of the basement of an Episcopal church, Bolling now manages a 129,000 square foot-facility in downtown Atlanta. Since founding the food bank, Bolling has helped distribute over 20 million pounds of food to 800 local and regional nonprofit organizations that work to provide for the hungry in 38 Georgia counties.  

He has assisted countless families through the ACFB’s programs, but working in the nonprofit sector wasn’t always his plan. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and spent four years in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He went on to graduate from college with degrees in business and education, but still found himself searching for what he wanted to do in life.

“My whole process after I got out of the service was one of learning more about myself and what God wanted me to do in my life,” Bolling said. “I have to say, it was not clear and it took a while.”

After a few years of working various jobs, Bolling enrolled at UWG due to his interest in the nationally-recognized humanistic psychology program.

“Humanistic psychology really encouraged personal seeking and clarification,” he said.

He went on to study several different courses, taking a particular interest in mediation and conflict resolution, and considered becoming a therapist.

Soon after graduating with a master’s degree in psychology, Bolling and a few of his colleagues headed to Atlanta to start an interfaith community. They had one goal in mind: to serve. He and the others got jobs that were service-related and even started a few businesses within the community.

This led Bolling to volunteer at a downtown church, where he later became the director of community ministries. Within a few years, he helped create a counseling center, a training center for seminary students, a health clinic, an employment program and a community kitchen.

“It was the first community kitchen created in Atlanta for the homeless back in the mid-seventies,” said Bolling. “Since it was the only one, everyone came. I had a particular interest in working with Vietnam veterans because there was a lot of them on the street after the war.”

As the community kitchen expanded, Bolling began to ask other churches in the area if they would be willing to offer the same service at their facilities if he found a way to provide them with the food.

“That’s why the food bank was created, he said. “To provide a means for the congregations in the city who responded to the call to open up their doors to feed the hungry and homeless,” Bolling said.

Starting out with just three organizations over 30 years ago, the ACFB currently distributes food to more than 800, using a paid staff along with over 1,000 volunteers per month. It is also starting to branch out into other service areas, such as providing free school supplies, free tax preparation assistance and benefits screening services.

The next big challenge for Bolling and the ACFB is servicing hundreds of area grocery stores that throw out damaged foods. Bolling estimates that most grocery stores throw out up to 20 percent of their inventory and he is currently working on a way to take advantage of the “waste” from grocery stores and turn it into a way to satisfy the hunger of thousands more.

“I’ve got a great job,” Bolling said. “It’s challenging, creative and diverse, and I get to work with all types of people within the faith, political, business and educational communities.”