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October 5, 2010

From the least of these can come the greatest epiphany.

An entire movement – one that today is literally saving America – began as a casual comment in 1967.  On a lonely walk home, John van Hengel witnessed a woman rummaging through a supermarket’s garbage bin.  She was fussing to herself.

Moved by compassion, van Hengel approached the woman.  He asked if anything was wrong. She said, “Yes. Right in front of me is perfectly good food.  Yet, I have to search through this bin for it.  There should be a place where such food is deposited and checked out for people.”

John van Hengel blinked.

He had an epiphany.

The epiphany was this: she was right.

A woman, with the problem of feeding 10 children on a limited budget found a solution to her problem.  In doing so, she opened a door in van Hengel’s mind.

All night long, the epiphany burned in his mind.  Over the next couple of weeks, van Hengel learned that supermarkets filled their garbage bins with packages that failed the test for their sales marketing displays.  Like the woman stated, it was perfectly good food.

The epiphany continued to burn in van Hengel’s mind.

John van Hengel was poor enough – as a divorced lifeguard – to need food assistance himself.  He volunteered at a soup kitchen operated out of the Phoenix, Arizona-based St. Mary’s.  A question formed in his mind: What if supermarkets shared the perfectly good food being thrown away with the St. Mary’s soup kitchen?

All van Hengel envisioned were win-win situations for all parties involved.  The vision motivated him to do what someone (most likely) had never done before: he asked a store manager for the discarded merchandise.

Like all people with a NEW IDEA, he was refused.  While the management THOUGHT it was a good idea, there was no precedent for what van Hengel was asking.  Since it wasn’t in the policies and procedures book, the manager felt powerless to implement such a good idea.

At this point, most people would have given up.  Unfortunately, van Hengel did not have that luxury.  The epiphany was reinforced daily by his experiences at St. Mary’s soup kitchen.  He could see how many people he could HELP if the epiphany became a living reality.

Each time a manager told him “no,” because his idea was new, he pressed forward.  Eventually, a farmer – someone UNTRAINED in the OLD IDEAS – caught the same epiphany and took a RISK on the NEW IDEA.

  • The result – Food Bank of Alaska distributed food to 5,787 families at the 2009 Thanksgiving Blessing event.
  • The result – in 2010 Catholic Social Services (Anchorage) distributes 40,000 pounds of food a month.
  • The result – in 2010 New Hope on the Last Frontier (Anchorage) distributes food to 300 families a week.

All from a poor man who had an epiphany given to him by a poor woman.

What epiphany is burning in your mind?  I invite you to START WHERE YOU ARE!

Kokayi Nosakhere is an Anchorage-based community activist who agrees with George Bell: that we can feed the 13,910 children who are at high-risk for hunger in Anchorage. Towards this end, he is conducting A THOUSAND MEAL TOUR, using his booklet: START WHERE YOU ARE. To contribute to the THOUSAND MEAL TOUR please call him at 907-884-4710 or email him at

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 16, 2012 5:02 am

    Well written, brother!

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