Teaching my children some of the greatest things I have learned is important to me. Humility and the value of generous giving are on the list.
Initially, when I began the 34,000 Lives project my goal was to positively impact 34,000 people by sharing a book. Over time the project evolved into a daily mission to have a positive impact on the lives of others. It’s something I put a lot of energy into. Something I hope my children learn and do. Something I have learned from my parents. The 34,000 Lives Food and School Supply Challenge is a week-long event in honor of my father, Jim Cunningham. I am thankful for everything he has taught me.
In 2011, my father suddenly passed. In 2012, to honor who he was and celebrate what would have been his 56th birthday, I coordinated an event called the Jim Cunningham Fishes and Loaves Food Drive. The gathering with family and friends collected 179 pounds of food, $227, and a brown grocery bag full of school supplies for the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf which services several communities including Shoreview where my father grew up. August 15, 2012, my children and I delivered the donations.
The following August, inspired by the individual who donated the bag of school supplies, the event was turned into a food and school supply drive. Again family and friends gathered bringing donations in honor of my father. That year we collected approximately 116 pounds of food, $40, and a backpack full of school supplies. The Ralph Reeder Food Shelf was appreciative.
This year, noting busy schedules, a desire to savor the final days of summer, and the cost of traveling a long distance for some, there was a wish to create an easier opportunity to participate in giving and have it include more community food shelves. The food and school supply drive was turned into a food and school supply challenge that can be done any way, anywhere. The idea is that people who are able to can take action to help others simply by donating to their local food shelf, or, creating an event such as a backyard bbq or picnic in the park which allows a fun gathering where friends, family and neighbors can participate too. July 22nd, I began inviting friends, family, classmates, neighbors and acquaintances to consider what they may be able to give and inspire.
And here we are, the beginning of the “big week”. In addition to the food and school supply collection being held 6:30 p.m. August 14th at Meister’s Bar and Grill in Shoreview to benefit the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf, donations and gatherings are happening throughout Minnesota as well as in Ohio, Florida and Texas. The week-long event emphasizes the importance of community and the great value in helping others when you are able.
My aunt, Colleen DeCorsey, captured our family’s view of food so well when she said, “As is our way, food expresses many things for this family. Love, gratitude, family, healing, health, gathering, friendship and therapy. Food is a powerful language, crossing many barriers. There was always a good helping of love in everything he (her brother, my father) prepared.”
Some of my favorite stories about my dad include him sharing a cup of coffee and a sandwich with a homeless person on Thanksgiving, and serving at a soup kitchen. Known for preparing a good omelet, a delicious chicken dumpling soup, and an excellent fish fry, my family and I believe my dad would be very proud of EVERYONE doing what they can to provide a meal for a family in need. What he had he was always willing to share. He also had times in his life when he experienced the great blessing of the kindness and generosity of others. What he taught me is that you give what you can, and when you need help, be humble enough to ask for it. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget. This year’s goal is 225 pounds of food and five backpacks full of school supplies in every community possible.