Weekly meeting - February 13: Fighting Hunger in Ann Arbor

Speaker: Jim Cain has been Senior Manager, Sales and Executive Communications, at General Motors Corporation since February of 2011. In that capacity, he served as the lead speechwriter for Dan Ackerson (2012-2013) and Mary Barra (2014) during their tenures at the helm of GM. He was Senior Vice-President for Strategic Communications at The Quell Group in Troy, Michigan, from 2008 to 2011. From 1995 to 2007, he was Director of Product Communications for Ford Motor Company. He was a founding member of the Board of Directors for the Breakfast at St. Andrews.

In 1982, the Michigan economy was on the verge of imploding. Inflation, which had averaged 3.2% annually since the end of World War II, escalated rapidly in 1973; the formation of The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies that year, and the significant increase in the price of crude oil that followed, sent shock waves through the American economy. Inflation reached 7.7% in 1973, rising to 9.1% in 1975, and soaring to 11.3% in 1979 before peaking at 13.5% in 1980. Paul Voker, appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve by President Carter, undertook to wring inflation out of the economy. He slowed the rate of growth in the money supply and raised interest rates sharply. The federal funds rate reached 20% by June 1981. The prime rate peaked at 21.5% in June 1982. Such tight money caused the economy to contract sharply. Unemployment nationally stood at 10.8% in December 1982. The state-wide unemployment rate in Michigan was 14.5% that September. In Flint, it reached 23.4%, the highest in the nation.

A small group of parishioners at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church responded to this distress in by deciding to feed the hungry in our community. Encouraged and supported by the Rev. Earl Lewis, then its Rector, they started preparing and serving a hot breakfast three times a week in the parish hall. That soon expanded to every day as more volunteers joined them. For 36 years now, between 90 and 150 meals are provided every day of the year by more than 100 volunteers.

Financial support for the Breakfast was provided initially by the Church vestry alone. That foundation broadened over the years to include Food Gatherers, the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop (recipient of our Club’s 2013 Distinguished Service Award), local foundations, and the City of Ann Arbor.  Its urtext, though, was always individual donations. In 2010, seeking to attract additional sources of funding, the Breakfast recast itself as a 501(c)(3) corporation separate and distinct from the Church.

The Breakfast lost 10% of its annual budget in 2009 when, due to the onset of the recession precipitated by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the City of Ann Arbor withdrew annual support of approximately $8500. Our speaker conceived and organized a benefit concert at The Ark in response. When Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder took the stage on March 3 last year, their performance fees and associated costs were fully underwritten by sponsors. All proceeds from ticket sales went to support the Breakfast.

Close to $100,000 has been raised from these concerts over the last decade. Our speaker will tell us how they came to be and how the Breakfast this money helps make possible enhances the quality of our common life in Ann Arbor.