Feeding Our Neighbors

Venture-capitalist-turned-philanthropist Paul Dickau says ending hunger in San Bernardino is within reach. His nonprofit, Helping Hands Pantry, feeds up to 14,000 people a week and is giving away thousands of Christmas baskets this holiday season.

Question: You are chief executive of Helping Hands Pantry in San Bernardino, California. Will you serve Christmas dinner? What plans does Helping Hands have for Christmas?

Answer: We serve 10,000 to 14,000 people every week with the food and other household resources they need — not just meals. We already have given out 2,000 Christmas baskets to families, and we will take out Christmas meals to the homeless on Christmas along with the items we give them every day.We serve those in need 365 days a year, and Christmas is not a lot different.

How do you find the people who need to be fed? Do they come to you or do you go to them?

We go to the homeless where they congregate with our "Living on the Street" truck and trailer 365 days a year. The people who come to our pantry to get groceries are referred to us by the 211 San Bernardino County information call center and all of the other referral services: churches, community clinics, Inland Empire Health Plan, Molina Healthcare, our website, and numerous other sources.

Where does the food you serve come from? Where does your funding come from?

The food comes from a combination of the gardens where we grow vegetables, numerous local farmers, food distribution/logistics companies, and local retailers. Most of the funding comes from people who are personal friends and the local churches.

Where do you find volunteers? How much of a commitment do they give?

We find volunteers from many sources: local churches, the Internet, companies, civic organizations like Rotary Club, students, and members of the community. The commitment varies. Some come in for an hour here and there, and a few help out full time. Most average less than three hours per week, but for every hour that someone volunteers, there are 11 people in the community who receive the resources they need for that week.

You have said it is your goal to end hunger in San Bernardino. How will you do that? And when?

There is enough food going to waste and being disposed of in landfills to feed all of those in need. What we do is very simple: we collect food from folks who would prefer to donate it to us than to throw it away, sort, and package it, and give it away. All we have to do is keep doing what we are doing and continue our growth, and we will end hunger. 

“When?” is a good question. Right now we are working at over capacity for the facilities and infrastructure that we now have. Once we raise the funds to expand our infrastructure, we will be able to grow until the need is fully met.

What made you decide to start Helping Hands eight years ago? Weren't there already organizations feeding hungry people?

A few years prior to starting Helping Hands Pantry our church got involved in giving out food once a week on Sundays at a building near our location in Redlands, California. Three other churches used the same building to give out food on other days of the week. During this time, we came to see that even though we were helping more people than most pantries, we were still just helping a small percentage of the people who needed help. 

As we studied the problem and how we could do something more to help, it became clear that the current system and the way we were helping were not effective if we wanted to end the problem of hunger. Something had to change. Since we did not have the ability to change the system — but did have the ability to change what we were doing — we decided to change ourselves and the way we were doing things. This was the beginning of Helping Hands Pantry.  And others with a similar passion soon joined us.

You retired from a venture capitalist firm you started. Why did you decide to leave the world of finance?

The whole story is too long to share here. In short, it was a combination of my growing relationship with Christ and the knowledge that if I did not retire at that time that I probably never would, and there were other things that I wanted to do in life.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to help people who might be less fortunate or provide food for hungry people?

Find an organization that is already doing it well and join them and help. If you cannot find one that is truly working to end hunger in your community, come and work with me a while, and I will show how you can make that kind of a difference where you live.

What are you going to be doing this Christmas?

Personally, I will be up all night Christmas eve and morning preparing the meal for the homeless. I will then take a nap, followed by dinner with a missionary friend who is in southern California for a couple of weeks before starting a new assignment.

Do you attend the Redlands Adventist Church? Have you always been an Adventist? 

Yes, I am a member of the Redlands Seventh-day Adventist Church. I was baptized in 2004 into that congregation and the Adventist Church. I grew up as a Methodist. 

I notice that Helping Hands Pantry does not identify with any specific church. I assume that is deliberate.

Even before we became Helping Hands Pantry, we had many non-Adventist people involved with us. If you do something like this under the banner of any one congregation or denomination, you exclude a lot of people who will stay away. This includes both those who need the help and those who would help with the problem. If we are going to end hunger, we need to be inclusive of all of those who feel called to help. 

What do you think the Adventist church does well when it comes to helping people in need? What could it do better?

We have a wonderful medical mission to the world, but it seems that we miss the mark when it comes to those right next door. 

Of course, we do not miss it completely. Here in the Loma Linda/ Redlands/ San Bernardino area, we have wealth and surplus in the communities south of the freeway in Loma Linda, Redlands, and Grand Terrace and just on the other side of the freeway bordering these cities we have some of the greatest poverty in the United States. On the positive side, we have the SACHS Clinics and Helping Hands Pantry working to help our neighbors. (Before 2008, it was just the SACHS Clinic.) 

We need to do more to get out of the churches and into the communities that need all that we have to offer. Jesus brought the message of love for all and we need to show this. To do this we must do everything we can to be loving. This means we must stop excluding people in our own community because all of God's children are loved by God and welcome in God's Church. If they are kept from doing what they are called to do or if we make them feel unwelcome or judged in our congregations, we are not loving them. So we need to love all who come to us (including those who are already in our congregations), and then we need to take this unconditional love out to all of God's children in the community.

Paul C Dickau is executive director and president of Helping Hands Pantry which he started after a 20-year career in business and finance. He is a founding member of the Food Policy Advisory Council of San Bernardino County and serves on numerous other boards and committees. Paul Dickau received his B.S. from California State University San Bernardino and his M.Div MBA from La Sierra University. He lives in Loma Linda, California.

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