How can we complain about the effects of poverty in our community if we are unwilling to be part of the solution? In the same way, how can we pray for God’s intervention if we are unwilling to be part of His answer? Judgment and being critical are easy, being part of the solution, or the answer to someone’s prayer, takes something else.
We need more people that care about the needs and opportunities within their community. When leaders move toward such a challenge, they’re listening, learning, growing, and interacting, becoming bigger than themselves. That’s when having a voice becomes informed and really matters. This is how solutions are birthed and sustained.
It’s hard to find real leaders; but that’s every community’s biggest need. This is a story about what it takes to be a real leader, and we’ll give you a shining example:
As a ministry of the United Methodist Church in White Swan, their food pantry had operated for 30 years serving mostly tribal families. A man named Tom Jackson ran it most all that time, but when he had to stop for health reasons, he simply walked up to her, handed over the building keys and said: “it’s all yours.” That was two years ago.
Her name was Priscilla Marie Gardee Stevens, known to the Yakama as WUXUUM~LATIT; aka Issy to her family and close friends. She was very committed to her church which she loved and ultimately became the caretaker and only staff member there.
Issy was unassuming and hard working. She earned several degrees including a couple post graduate degrees. She had previously worked for the Yakama Nation Head Start program for White Swan and Wapato. She also worked for the Yakama Nation Higher Education Program in Toppenish. But she never spoke about her accomplishments. She liked to talk about working at the state fair and fishing with her family on the Columbia. Some might have thought of her as private, but the better description was genuinely humble.
With no experience working at a food pantry, she was now in charge. She showed up that first month to the regional Food Bank meeting for the state in mid-2019. Having no idea how to do any of the paperwork (which is somewhat exhaustive) and having no experience with transportation, storage, logistics, or food safety, she had lots of questions. The individual chairing that meeting was Ken Trainor. Ken had chaired both the regional and state provider meetings for several years. Professionally, he’s the Director of Operations for Sunrise Outreach Center.
She had been working for the church weekdays and was now operating the food pantry on Saturdays. The pantries run with volunteers, including the supervisor. The supervisor must pull together a team who are willing to give their time and energy to show up every week; it’s hard work and takes lots of heavy lifting and requires at least three half days each week. It takes a real leader to make this happen.
Ken talked about the business agenda he had for that meeting, but for someone to run a program like this without any experience was a lot for someone already working five days a week. Sunrise Outreach offered to take responsibility for the pantry, adding it to the other five they were already running throughout the county. Issy would still be needed for the key supervisor role, but Sunrise could mentor her and handle logistics and some of the reporting for her. She understood the importance of the pantry to her community and made the decision to take it on.
What does it take to be a real leader?
- Being a seer; having the ability to see a need, understand the weight of it, establish priority, and move toward it despite the risks.
- When you move, people follow you because they want to go where you go and do what you do.
- People become bigger than themselves as they catch your perspective.
- Having respect for people and their contribution as well as physical and emotional limitations.
Izzy could have walked away when Tom threw her his keys. It honestly wasn’t her problem the food pantry was about to end after 30 years. Truth is though she could see the value to the community. Many families impacted by poverty often run into situations where they just need a little time when financial priorities collide. Providing food to them for a week can make all the difference in the world to them. She could see the need, understood it wouldn’t be easy, but with real courage moved toward the need.
She set an example because she moved in the right direction, people naturally wanted to follow her. There’s something about being so purpose driven, compassionate toward others, believing you can make a difference; others latch onto.
She brought family members to help each week. Her siblings, children, and close friends; everyone was included. She was a servant/leader in that she did as much heavy lifting as anyone. She served food to those who came for help each week and was always welcoming. It’s difficult to work so hard yourself and keep your eye on everything else going on, but she was teaching everyone around her how to do what she was doing.
Issy seemed to consider her team with the same altruistic thoughtfulness as the people in the community being served. She was invested in them, knew their limitations, and made decisions based on their input. Each of them mattered; she genuinely respected each of them; their availability, their opinion, and their physical limitations.
If we are to use Issy as an example, love would be a critical element to being a real leader. She didn’t supervise the food panty at the expense of her family. Her family did the food pantry with her because they too saw the need, they joined in her example and shared her perspective. This is a family that respects and loves each other, and the community as she did.
At some point this year, Issy started having pain in her stomach. Sadly, the pain was progressive, and it went on for months, as those closest to her report. She wasn’t one to complain, and she always showed up and worked hard.
We know she was seeing a doctor, but it wasn’t until June of this year that she was diagnosed with stomach cancer; she was told she would only have a couple weeks at most. Even after that diagnosis, she showed up at the Food Pantry the next Saturday. She passed away the following Friday evening almost two weeks after the diagnosis surrounded by family whom she loved. Her parents, children and siblings opened the Food Pantry the next morning. To continue her legacy, they’ve since committed to continue the Panty. Her sisters have taken on supervision.
Call to Action
The first leader in this story was Tom. Issy could see the value to the community that he brought because the pantry was helping many families with essential needs while buying them time to prioritize things at home. The potential vacuum created by his departure could have created many problems for the community. Her action to move toward the need brought those around her to follow her, they caught her vision. They felt loved and respected so they ‘fit in’ there. Even in the great sadness of Issy’s departure, new leaders immerged, and the pantry is sustained.
All six of our food pantries operate with all-volunteer staff. They always start and continue with a leader. These are people who commit four to five hours, three to four days every week, and they work hard. They love what they do because they love both who they’re doing with, and who they’re doing for.
Leaders are needed within all sectors of each community: schools, churches, youth programs, government, businesses, and non-profits. Communities never get better or reach their potential without them. Are you the one pointing out what you think is wrong and complaining to whoever will listen? Or, are you going to be the next leader?