Food Arts presents the December 1996 Silver Spoon Award to Bill Shore, the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength (SOS) in Washington, D.C., for his tireless devotion to the fight against hunger in the United States.
Shore hit upon a novel idea when he created SOS in 1984: his nonprofit organization would operate like a for-profit business, generating its own funds rather than soliciting handouts. “We would create new wealth but put it back into the community,” Shore says of the concept he thinks of as “a profit-seeking firm with a social cause.” Shore’s plan was to harness the talents of individuals and the resources of creative industries to raise funds for anti-hunger programs, an approach that has allowed SOS to distribute more than $30 million in grants to over 800 anti-hunger groups worldwide. His initial—and still most significant effort—was to enlist chefs and restaurateurs, a relationship that has grown into SOS’s massive Taste of the Nation fundraiser held in over 100 American and Canadian cities ever April.
At each Taste of the Nation venue, chefs prepare specialties for food and wine tastings, dinners, and brunches. More than 6,000 chefs participated in last April’s event, preparing food for over 65,000 guests. It raised $5 million, bringing Taste of the Nation’s totals since 1988 to $22 million.
SOS also taps the restaurant community for all-star fundraising events, such as the annual dinner at New York City’s Gramercy Tavern in October, which attracted the talents of Christopher Gross, Eric Ripert, Paul Bartolotta, Todd English, Nancy Silverton, and the host chef, Tom Colicchio. A Dine Across America campaign last month won support from chain and casual-dining establishments. SOS’s nutrition and food-budgeting programs target low-income adults, and Kids Up Front, and education program for at-risk children, is conducted with Kraft Foods as a partner.
By bringing so many chefs into play, Shore has facilitated a spirit of cooperation among them, allowing them a chance to network, exchange ideas, and share resources. “SOS gives them a great opportunity to showcase their work and gain the recognition they deserve for their culinary and community work,” Shore says. “This is less and organization that asks chefs to do things than an organization of chefs and restaurateurs. Translated, that means good business—for them and for us.”
SOS also runs Writer’s Harvest, a national reading program that taps into the literary world, publishes anthologies, and conducts Charge Against Hunger with American Express, which donates three cents to SOS for each use of its card during November and December. These combined activities allowed SOS to raise $16 million in 1996, with $11 million to $12 million going directly to programs for the hungry.
Shore comes by his activism naturally. He grew up in Pittsburgh, where his father ran an office for a longtime Democratic congressman. “That left a big impression on me,” he says. “My father worked on the community level, so I always equated politics with helping people” After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he went to work as an intern for Gary Hart, the former Democratic senator from Colorado, and attended law school at George Washington University at night. He rose thought the ranks in hart’s office, eventually becoming his policy director and political director of his presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1987. After Hart’s campaign crashed, Shore became chief of staff for Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, running his failed bid for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination. Shore turned his full attention to SOS in 1992.
The nature of his work keeps Shore airborne for a good part of the workweek, although he never fails tog get home to suburban Virginia on weekends to watch his son’s hockey games. The man who sips water at SOS events lest he “lose control” and succumb to his “real appetite for food” plans to log even more air miles when he eventually exports the SOS concept.
Financially, SOS’s contribution is a drop-in-the-bucket supplement to the government’s $35 billion expenditure on food assistance programs. But through SOS, Shore has raised awareness and increased participation in the crusade, and has called upon the nation to face its responsibilities to the less fortunate. In so doing, he has let the restaurant community lead the way.