To me a hero is someone who humbly helps people with no goal of being recognized. A farmer who grows amazing food for his community and raises a family is a hero, a soldier who joins the army with no idea where it will take him is a hero if he puts his fellow soldiers first and will do anything for them. There are people who work for me or students who have come through our program who I think are heroes, too.
Aspart of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Bacon. Jeff is a Certified Executive Chef and cookbook author from Winston-Salem, NC. He is also a Certified Culinary Administrator and member of the American Academy of Chefs. He has worked in the foodservice industry for 36 years. In his current position at Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC, Chef Jeff oversees Providence Kitchen’s family of programs. Since founding this effort in 2006, Bacon has fostered Providence into the tip of the spear in Second Harvest Food Bank’s efforts to combat the root causes of poverty and hunger. Anchored by its school, Providence Culinary Training, students work in the Providence Community Meals department to provide meals to hungry children, seniors, and other individuals who struggle to provide nourishment for themselves and their families. Chef Jeff is a two-time recipient of the American Culinary Federation President’s Medallion, was given the UNC-G Public Service Award in 2018, was awarded Triad Local First’s “Vibrancy Award” in 2015, and was selected for the Winston Salem Foundation Award in 2017, the highest award for non-profit service in the city. Jeff believes in his totality that he is fulfilling Gods calling upon his life after a redemptive transformation of his own. In his effort to globally assist others to lift individuals in their communities, he serves as a National Member Ambassador for Catalyst Kitchens and on the National Job Training Cohort for Feeding America.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?
Igrew up in the mountains of NC. Very rural with multiple neighbors who had no running water or electricity. I got to experience a true Appalachian Mountain culture in a very real and natural way. It was an amazing blessing that influences every part of who I am today.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. This was the first “big person” book I read as a kid. My grandmother gave it to me and it changed my life. It was the first time I lost myself completely in a story and I became addicted to reading. It also influenced my love of nature and animals. I am a voracious reader to this day.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“The greatest good you can do another is not just to share your riches with them but to help them uncover their own.” — Benjamin Disraeli. I love this because it is what I do every day. See the good in others and cultivate it into something marketable and shareable. Sometimes life really represses that awesomeness into hidden dark places. If you have a person in your life to help you mine those hidden places, you can find that thing inside you that makes you capable of anything. No matter how far down you’ve gone.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
I run Second Harvest Food Bank’s Providence Programs. Normally we are a culinary school for people with barriers to employment, a hunger relief kitchen, and a set of social enterprises that give our students and graduates real-life experience while providing a revenue stream for our organization and an amazing interface with the public. Since the pandemic, we have shut down our school, restaurants, and catering company and have moved our personnel into the hunger relief area. We are focused on two areas:
- Emergency meals for children who are not getting meals with school out. We are delivering over 25,000 meals per week to 30 sites serving families with children.
- Supporting displaced hospitality workers. We turned one of our restaurants (Providence Kitchen) into HEARD Collaborative Café. Many laid-off chefs and owners teamed up to donate their time and product that was going to waste with restaurants shut down. We pooled these resources and started serving workers in our industry who were without any income or resources to survive. It started slowly but built to serving 400 meals a day to these folks, as well as distributing 140 fresh produce boxes to their families. We also had counselors on-site to help with unemployment claims, food stamps, and other resources. Donations and grants poured in and this effort ended up being fully self-supporting, outside of our internal staff who led the effort. We even got a grant to pay many of the former volunteers who were helping, providing them with an income source while laid off.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?
A hero is someone who helps others without thinking of the cost to themselves. I am not a hero; I am a servant.
In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.
A hero is:
- Selfless – — — My greatest hero is my mom who led a life of helping others, specifically homeless veterans. She also raised me and that was a sacrifice and mission field all to itself.
- Stubborn — They never quit, even when the odds are against them and people tell them they are crazy.
- Passionate –— You can’t shut them up when you get them started about their chosen area. The passion just oozes out.
- Faithful — They believe. They just do.
- Slightly Unhinged — They take risks and push hard. They sometimes get on people’s nerves, but in their minds, it is the right thing to do because their mission is so important.
If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?
I believe that it is a combination of things usually. Something that inspires them to believe deeply in helping others. Life reinforces that belief and suddenly they are acting. Action is the key. You can talk all you want, but if you don’t do something, what is the benefit? If you are truly committed to your cause, then you are able to do scary, even impossible things. I think we all have that capacity inside us. It’s just what life brings forward that determines what we do.
What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?
I looked at what was happening and quickly assessed that we had the ability to do something about it, something that could truly help people. So how could we not? The degree to which we were successful is just a testament to how God favors the willing.
Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?
There are so many people in the nonprofit world who I admire, but to me a hero is someone who humbly helps people with no goal of being recognized. A farmer who grows amazing food for his community and raises a family is a hero, a soldier who joins the army with no idea where it will take him is a hero if he puts his fellow soldiers first and will do anything for them. There are people who work for me or students who have come through our program who I think are heroes, too.
Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?
What scares me most is the arrogance of people and the media who put information out and believe it is right, no matter what. And how easily some people are swayed by statements based on shaky evidence or just a social post they read about something we know so little about. It draws parallels to our problems with racial equity. People are influenced to believe the wrong stuff way too easily. We seem to care too much about being right and winning the argument. Who have you helped today? What have you sacrificed? If the answer is nothing, then don’t talk to me about your ideas on the pandemic or racial injustice. Show me, don’t tell me.
Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain why?
There are so many out there who are doing so much to help. From big organizations to people leading peaceful protests for equality. I am surrounded by an amazing team of people who work tirelessly to help our community and our clients in a very individual way. They become us, a part of our extended family. We are changing lives one recipe at a time.
What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?
I have been inspired by the giving. Not everyone is in a position to run an effort as I do, but they find a way to help. We had a gentleman who goes by “PeeWee.” He was a displaced hospitality worker who came to HEARD for a meal for himself and his family. He was so inspired by our effort that he started a social media campaign with all kinds of crazy stunts and contests to raise money for HEARD. He was in dire straits but found a way to help us and ended up raising over $2,000 for our cause.
Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.
Not too much. I wrote a book a few years ago called “Tested by Fire.” In times of extraordinary circumstances, people show more of who they really are. If you are fearful you, become more so. If you are giving, you become more so. I guess if you are a hero, you become more heroic. Everything I see now reinforces that belief.
What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?
That we learn to trust one another. That we learn to help first and leave the judging to God.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
The greatest gift you can give yourself is to learn to be a servant. Giving selflessly of oneself is the key to happiness.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We use business to train people who are lacking in skills, confidence, and opportunity. If every business did this, had a branch that was dedicated to training up people who need it, instead of lazily defaulting to the colleges and prisons, this country would be a healthier place.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Jon Bon Jovi — I know that sounds crazy. He is an activist who uses his influence to change his community. He has done big things but it could be even bigger. He uses food to reach people, which I love. I think with his voice and influence he could teach me how to take my program and make it bigger and better.
How can our readers follow you online?
@chefjeffacf on twitter @chefjeffnc on instagram
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!