Last Friday, a remarkable thing happened at Choicelunch. In the wake of the Butte County Camp Fire, all of the Bay Area was blanketed in smoke and over 100 schools in Northern California canceled school at the last minute. Our team was left with over 5,000 lunches on hand, and no one to serve. They were handed lemons, and not only did they make lemonade…they brought that lemonade right to the front lines of the disaster that led to the cancellations in the first place. I told my wife, Allison, all about it when I got home, and she urged me to share. “You have to tell that story!”
I was hesitant at first, despite how proud I was of the actions of our team. It felt a bit strange publicly calling attention to their efforts and shining the light on their goodness amidst the devastation facing others. So many in Butte County had lost their homes and even their lives, and there were far greater heroes on the front lines putting themselves in harm’s way. The contribution of our team was miniscule in relation, and yet the actions of individuals hundreds of miles away enabled a subtle shift from passive observers of devastation to active participants in relief recovery. Their actions were empowering, heart-warming, and worthy of re-telling, if for no other reason than to show how simple it can be to bring ideas to life with small, committed actions of a team working together to find a way to help.
I told the story on Facebook, hoping to spread some light and goodness in the News Feeds of my family and friends, particularly in light of the darkness and negativity that seems to have dominated said feeds in the wake of devastation around California and an election cycle. I woke up to hundreds of reactions, comments, and shares on the post, and a voicemail from a CNN reporter interested in hearing more. CNN picked up the story as part of a round-up on Californians helping Californians.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the post though was the conversation it sparked with a friend of mine from Chico, Kelsey Campbell, who was lucky enough to not be directly impacted personally but close enough to know many who have and to witness the devastation first-hand. The events of Friday were not an isolated event, but rather the beginning of introspection and ideation. “How else can we help?” kept running through my mind. Kelsey worked at Choicelunch for years right out of college as our nutritionist and knows our capabilities well. Kelsey agreed to run point on the ground and be our eyes and ears for opportunities to serve. My first inclination was to pull off a Thanksgiving dinner this week, but Kelsey found this need was already being met with CSU Chico and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. We decided to instead turn our attention to the longer view and reach out to the local school district foodservice department and begin collaborating on a holiday dinner around Christmastime. We’re still working on the specifics but are committed to doing our small part for our neighbors up north.
This Thanksgiving, I’m especially grateful for the people I’m so blessed to work with. I’m surrounded daily by people who refuse to be confined to shaking their heads in disbelief and feeling powerless in the face of tragedy. No, I work with people of action. People who see roadblocks not as a reason to throw up their hands in defeat and kick off their vacation week early on Friday, but rather as challenges to be worked through and overcome. Our people are resilient problem solvers wired to do good in the world, and I’m truly grateful to have the pleasure of leading our Choicelunch family.
Choicelunch is celebrating our 15th year in business, and early in the year came up with the tagline “Families First, Goodness Always” to commemorate the milestone. Coming up with taglines is always tricky. You want it to be something you can truly own, and not something that sounds good but rings hollow. I’m grateful for our team and the continual reminder through their actions that this is more than a tagline – it’s our way of life.