Hungry to Help

Volunteers from the University of the Third Age join USD alums at the Feeding America San Diego Food Bank


That there are children in San Diego who come to school on Monday mornings with a tummy ache isn’t shocking. That one out of four of them doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from absolutely is.

Facts like that helped draw USD alumnae Denise Wheeler ‘97 and Allison (Marsh) Glader ’98 to join a group affiliated with the organization Feeding America San Diego (FASD). They’re putting their time and money toward helping the nonprofit thrive.

For Glader, it helped that her job had become a little less all- consuming. That is, if working for a 24-hour cable news network ever really slows down. But when her boss, acclaimed broadcaster Larry King scaled back, she went from booking guests for a nightly show to acting as supervising producer for King’s quarterly specials and helping develop new shows.

A lot on her plate, but still, there was room for more. Joining the board of Feeding America San Diego proved a perfect fit. The organization not only does something she believes in, there’s a built-in community of other USD alumni and friends on the board and executive team.

Glader has worked at CNN since 2001 and been touched time and again by the devastation she’s seen. She’s well aware that needs are great everywhere.

“But just in our own backyard, there are so many people that need help. I think we should help the whole world, but I want to help our own city,” Glader says. “I want to start local and do as much as I can. Lots of times when you give, you just don’t know where it’s going. Here, you feel like you’re making a difference.”

That’s in part because of FASD’s growth — started just four years ago, it now plans to distribute 18 million pounds of food this fiscal year — and its efficiency. For every $1 donated, 97 cents goes directly to programs. For that dollar, FASD says it can provide six meals locally.

Wheeler sums up the attraction this way: “It’s local, they focus on healthy, nutritious food and they fill a basic need. You can’t do anything if you’re hungry.”

She and her husband own Naked Café, a group of four San Diego County restaurants that serve up inventive natural-food dishes. The partnership felt like a good fit.

“I wanted to be involved with an organization that would help fill that gap for people who need good, nutritious food and can’t afford it,” she explains.

Whether USD attracts service- minded individuals or instills that mindset, for many, the university provides an impetus for keeping its community connected through altruistic actions.

“I think from a former student standpoint, it’s kind of a nod to the sense of social responsibility and community that USD instills in its students,” says Rich Easter ’04, program manager for Feeding America San Diego. “That so many former students are not just working here, but serving on the board — that’s compassionate service.”

And it’s not just USD’s alumni getting into the spirit of FASD’s mission to help locals in need. A few dozen volunteers from USD’s University of the Third Age (U3A) turned up at the Feeding America San Diego Food Bank one Friday in July, ready to do their part. This was the first community service event for U3A, a lifelong learning program for the 55-and-up set.

“USD is so ingrained in this organization, that it’s just a good fit to start with,” says Jodi Waterhouse, USD’s director of corporate and professional programs.

As they worked, their corner of the warehouse was filled with the screeching of packing tape being pulled from the roll, crinkles of plastic bags filled with beans, the pounding of bags of potatoes being moved around. All the while, volunteers chatted about their life stories and generally bonded.

“To me, this is the perfect kind of project because you don’t feel like you’re leaving something half-done. We don’t feel like we came in the middle and left in the middle,” says Agnes West-Kohler ’65. — Kelly Knufken