By May 5, 2014 Read More →

Interview – Elizebeth Greenlee Harrison

InterView – Elizebeth Greenlee-Harrison
CEO Inter-Faith Ministries

Who are the people and families in need here in Modesto? It may surprise you that it is so much more than those you see in the parks and the streets. There are so many families, living below or near the poverty line that are just like you and me, trying to make ends meet and struggling to get ahead. Feeding your family is one of the challenges in the day that is a constant struggle.

This is where IFM, Inter-Faith Ministries comes in. There are thousands of families that depend on the food and grocery assistance that IFM provides. There are so many more that need help. IFM provides food, help and most of all dignity to those that need help. Let’s meet Elizabeth Greenlee-Harrison the new CEO of IFM. She has two children and has worked her way to her job as CEO from the marketing position with IFM she began in August of last year. She is looking to help our community change the way we look at assisting our family and friends in need.

ModestoView: Your path to this place is amazing and you have pulled yourself through so much, including an abusive relationship; what advice could you give to help someone else that may be in need?

Elizabeth Greenlee-Harrison: Have faith, be brave, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There were people who helped me in small ways that gave me hope, and at some point, I decided that if I was going to start over from scratch and build a beautiful life for my children, that I might as well dream big. Lean into your family and friends, trust God, and put one foot in front of the other. The deal is, you just have to start, every day. Get out of bed and fight, and one day, it won’t be a fight anymore.

MV: Do you think that people understand who is really in need and what can we do to change the perception so more people can help?

EGH: There are definitely some misconceptions. There is growing concern in town that non-profits are attracting the homeless. First of all, let me say, there are worse things than to be known as a safe-haven for the downtrodden. That said, in our case, that doesn’t apply. We don’t serve meals, but rather groceries to people with homes, who face hunger at surprising rates. People like single parents, veterans, the elderly, and the disabled who can’t make ends meet. When there is more month than money, there are still mouths to feed, and in most households we serve, this includes children. Over 30,000 kids in our area are facing imminent hunger. These are the people we help. We have to communicate and educate the public by any means necessary. Word of mouth, social media, events and publications like this will allow people to help those who are truly in need.

MV: If you had unlimited budget to assist our community, what would you do?

EGH: I could make a list longer than this magazine. To begin with, I’d come at the issue of food stability and nutrition from multiple angles. With unlimited funding, I’d supply all the groups in this county that are feeding our people with healthy foods, and help positive changes become self-sustaining with community gardens, and in the long term, incentivizing businesses to provide healthy options in “food dessert” areas. All the while, I’d want to see nutrition and health addressed at a neighborhood level, with programs addressing cooking at home, breastfeeding, and wellness. I’d also provide access to preventive medical care, like immunizations and diabetes screenings with monthly clinics. We could see a change in public health in less than a generation, which would in turn affect crime, the economy, and the overall quality of life in the central valley.

MV: What do you want to do differently in the future to bring our community together on these issues?

EGH: I think that is primarily a matter of information and collaboration. IFM has a food coalition made up of 70 other organizations, to whom we distribute food, and benefit from the work of many other non-profits as well. As a whole, we need to focus on informing the community about the real needs in this county, and work together to ensure that the abundant resources we have here are used locally, in the most effective ways. It is always important for non-profits to find creative ways to bring in money, but I would contend that our most important job is finding creative ways to serve.

MV: Tell us about some of the innovative plans you have to reach out to our community.

EGH: We have several new concepts on the horizon, but these days I can’t stop thinking about our Farm to Neighborhood program. Our county has over 180,000 people living in USDA-defined “food desserts.” These are neighborhoods where people are both low-income, and have little or no access to healthy foods (a travesty, in one of the most agriculturally rich regions in the world). They’re served mostly by liquor and convenience stores, or fast food, with no fresh fruits or vegetables. This program would be a mobile, free “farmer’s market” that would bring bread, bottled water, and fresh produce from our Gleaning and Gathering programs into the heart of the neighborhoods that need it.

Also, pretty soon I hope to see the words “Feed Modesto” all over this town. The Feed Modesto campaign is the way we hope get the word out, and connect our city to our projects.

MV: Describe your perfect day in Modesto.

EGH: My children will behave for a week for the promise of Mr. T’s Donuts, and we love to stroll around downtown before catching a play or the ballet at Gallo Center. Then if I’m very lucky, I’ll finish off the day with a grown-up dinner at Camp 4.

MV: Anything else you would like to add? EGH: IFM has been around a long time: over 40 years. We have a legacy to uphold of feeding children in need. I hope to see a new generation embrace our mission the way the community embraced me. As Tolkien said, “I found it was the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay.” That’s what Modesto should be known for.

MV: Beatles or Stones? EGH: My two favorite songs of all time are “Blackbird” by the Beatles, and “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones, so I was kind of dreading this question, but Beatles can never go wrong for me.

IFM 120 Kerr Avenue, Modesto, CA 95354 209/572-3117 Interfaithmodesto.org ElizabethGH@interfaithmodesto.org

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