Life at DHG Podcast Series

Episode 59: Making an Impact by Fighting Hunger

This month DHG kicks off its annual food drive, Count the Cans, where the entire firm focuses on fighting hunger through food donations and volunteerism at local community food banks. Robin Brown is a manager in the DHG Risk Advisory practice in Atlanta. She is a board member and has been volunteering for many years with the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Robin’s focus on food bank programs stems from her time working with Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA youth programs during her college years. The stories shared by her students about food insecurity in their households stuck with her throughout college and compelled her to continuously give back when and where she could. 

Episode 59 Transcript:

AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG podcast series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison your host and I love this venue because we get to hear the things that matter the most to us – flexibility, careers and of course, our people.

For the past seven years, we’ve hosted a firm wide food drive during the month of June. Count the Cans as we affectionately call it, it’s a little accounting humor, to the name of it. It originated as a way to bring together the spirit of DHG after we had the merger of Dixon Hughes and Goodman.

We knew that there was a lot of really great things going on in our offices, but we weren’t doing anything collectively. We decided that every community that we serve has a need for food in their food banks or some sort of community repository.

It was an easy place for us to really feel like we were making a difference and we chose to have this in June because this is a time when our food bank’s really have a need for assistance. Everybody thinks of the food banks in November, you know? It’s Thanksgiving; we’re grateful for all that we have, but June tends to be a time kids are out of school, a lot of children across the U.S. rely on school food as their primary source of nutrition, so they eat breakfast and lunch there. So that leaves dinner.

In the summer time, that’s missing, and the other thing is volunteers and donors tend to be on vacations in and out during the summer and so the food bank isn’t top of mind. So we chose June for our food drive.

As accountants, we all tend to be really competitive, we add a gamification, and I laughed the first year that we did this. I had partners calling me, wanting to know if they bought pallets of tuna, if they could just have them delivered directly to the food bank and it count towards their total or does it actually have to come to the office?

All of that was in the name of victory because really, the office that wins mainly is just the winner – being able to say that they won. There’s not some huge prize, other than the prize of giving back to our communities.

Here we are, on our seventh year and we have our food drive coming up June 15th to the 25th. This is one of our major impact activities. Joining me today is Robin Brown, she’s a manager in our risk advisory practice in Atlanta and she’s a board member for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Welcome, Robin.

RB: Hi Alice, how are you? Thank you so much for having me.

AGH: You’ve got it, glad to have you here and your knowledge of the food bank. Tell us how you became involved in community outreach through volunteering at food banks?

RB: Sure, I started volunteering with food banks way back in 2007 during an internship at college. I really appreciated and got a lot of value out of it because of having worked with the local Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA, during college and high school.

I remember several stories of my young students and kids saying that they were hungry, and they weren’t necessarily sure if there was going to be food on the table in the evening. When I had an opportunity of being an intern to volunteer at a food bank, I really got to see how the community was helping those most in need. Especially some of those children that I was working with and some of those other nonprofit organizations.

AGH: That’s super. As we strive as a firm to make a big impact in our communities, how have you witnessed the need of donations during the summer months at your local food bank?

RB: Sure, kind of as you mentioned, over this time, tends to be the time when most peoples’ households are in need of food. With students out of school, oftentimes, they are going three meals a day without a solid foundation in terms of when their next meal will be coming.

In the immediate Atlanta metro, there’s a lot of scarcity in terms of food security. As we go throughout the metro region. In the summer time, and particularly as you mentioned in June and July months, there is a big push within the region for people to donate, to give food, to think about those most in need.

We have a lot of families who are potentially trying to manage from paycheck to paycheck and now have students and children at home who are in need of food more than just dinner time.

AGH: Yeah, you mentioned the word security. I recently learned the term food insecurity, can you tell me what this is and how it connects to the programs that our local food banks are deploying to fight hunger?

RB: Sure. Food insecurity is actually a definition or a term that was defined by the USDA and they define it as a lack of consistent access to adequate foods. A lot of times, the access part comes from either a lack of money or actual proximity to resources of food.

A lot of times, I think of food insecurity and food deserts together. You can think of a food desert as a region or an area which there isn’t a big box grocery store or local pantries or food banks. A lot of times families are without access to those particular resources. They often tend to resort to a quick mart or a convenience store or a fast food place.

Because at least there’s a food option available, but it doesn’t always necessarily provide the most nutritious options.

AGH: Yes, absolutely. Most of our offices are in major markets, but we do have a few that are in smaller markets where maybe there is a big box grocery store but the food bank is something that’s smaller, that’s organized through, local churches.

We definitely have needs in our community. As you have volunteered for the Product Rescue Center and Kids in Need programs at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, what’s most surprising to you or something that you learned about helping fight hunger?

RB: I was most surprised at the number of households who are without food on a consistent basis, how many households within our particular region who are facing food insecurity on a daily basis.

In particular, going back to the children, a good 65% of Georgia public schools have students who are eligible for free and reduced lunches and so that means that they are prime candidates for food insecurity especially in the summer time.

By volunteering at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, it really brought home the fact that these programs are so much in need and to be able to give back and to help those most in need, especially our young children, was really impactful for me.

AGH: Absolutely, that’s one reason why we have during Count the Cans – we always have a special day for collecting peanut butter donations and we often do a special day for collecting tuna donations because you know, the protein sources are very scarce.

One of the other things that you may have seen out in our offices are our posters promoting Count the Cans. You know, going back to the children, one in five children in America are hungry and so we have a great opportunity to make a difference.

What would you say to someone to help encourage them to buy extra groceries and bring them in to the office or make a donation via our online platform, what would you say?

RB: That’s a great question. I would say –

AGH: I caught you off guard, sorry.

RB: I appreciate the question, it’s a great point. I think it’s really easy to pick up some extra food when your grocery shopping. I think the best case I can give to compel someone to do so, is we oftentimes, when we think of people in need, mostly we think of people who are homeless.

We think of people that we see when we’re out and about, driving our cars on the corner all the time. A lot of times what you don’t see is that there are people who are in need of food, and granted those people are in need of help and assistance as well but a lot of times, there are people potentially within our own neighborhood that are living in a food insecure household and we may never know.

Because a lot of times, people don’t talk about the struggles that they may be facing between choosing what to put on the dinner table for one evening or let’s say, what prescription drugs that they’re going to pay for that month.

There are a lot of people, surprisingly, potentially for some, that are in need of food on a consistent basis. I would say you may not see them, you may not see children out and about on the curb with signs with their parents, there are a lot of households both with and without children who are in need of food. Any opportunity that you have, whether it’s during Count the Cans or otherwise to pick up five extra cans of food.

Or, some extra packets of peanut butter or none perishable goods. Please consider doing so because there’s always a need for food assistance throughout the year.

AGH: That was great even though I put you on the spot, you answered it beautifully, and I would just like to challenge everyone that you know. You know what would be great? If every single DHG person took the amount of money that they spend on a regular basis at the grocery store and matched that to Count the Cans via actual, physical canned foods or via donation.

Imagine the difference that we could make. Thank you for joining us and sharing your story.

RB: Absolutely.

AGH: Okay, everybody go shopping this weekend, get your cans, the 15th through the 25th is Count the Cans, and I can’t wait to see which office dominates this year’s competition.

Thank you all for listening to Life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our life beyond numbers.

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