Thursday, October 9, 2014

They came from different states. They spanned a wide range of ages. Their backgrounds were varied. But all who gathered for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's 2014 national assembly in Atlanta shared one common mission: to learn how to better serve those who most need their help. More than 750 Vincentians -- the largest turnout in more than 13 years -- attended the annual assembly coming from as far away as Puerto Rico. The Sept. 24-27 conference featured workshops, committee meetings and national and local keynote speakers. Bill Bolling, executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, gave the keynote speech during lunch Sept. 27. Since Bolling founded the food bank in 1979, the organization has grown to distribute more than 35 million pounds of food and grocery products each year through a network of 600 local and regional partner nonprofit organizations that feed the hungry across the state. Bolling spoke of the importance of the table, pointing out that even in the Bible, many of the stories of Jesus take place around a table. Feeding those in need is about more than just food, he said. "The table was the place to be with people. For me, more important than doing for people was to be with people," he said. "The idea of starting a food bank was to have more of those tables -- more of those places where we would meet to be with each other. To listen -- to really find out more deeply what those issues were."