Interfaith Insight - 2023

Permanent link for "Putting Talk Into Action" by David Baak on April 18, 2023

Now, the Food Club is a nonprofit, member-based grocery store. It is an innovative and dignified approach to food security that provides consumer choice, member participation and access to healthy foods. Income-eligible members pay a low monthly fee and are able to shop using points based on their household size. Members can shop as often as they’d like and select foods that fit their needs. More information is available here.

But, here is the backstory — and it is a metaphor for all of us in the Interfaith arena — of the process from Conversation to Action.

Representatives from seven organizations began talking about a “food club.” The organizations that began that conversation included Feeding America of West Michigan, Home Repair Services, The Salvation Army (and pantry), Westminster Presbyterian Church (and pantry), ACCESS, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and United Church Outreach (UCOM).

The representatives met nearly weekly for two years to formulate the principles, structure and logistics of a membership-based nonprofit grocery store. They also formed a consumers advisory council that brought important perspective and recommendations to the discussion. Not all the organizations finished the conversation, and the original representatives, who also formed the first board, have long been replaced by a fully established nonprofit, community-board-led, consumer-including, vibrant, organized “action” that, sincestarting seven years ago, now serves nearly 11,000 individuals annually.

There are other examples, of course, but the Food Club is a particularly good demonstration of the collaboration necessary to the success of such an effort. Collaboration, at its finest, requires that those in conversation set aside their own agendas in favor of developing a consensus around a new focus, a new mission: a unique “product” that pushes them all beyond themselves.

Each of the Community Food Club’s founding organizations was different from the others, although their values were consistent with each other and their missions were complementary.  Yet, in the larger “market place” there was a certain competitive pressure on each toward individual identity and service or funding priority that could have sidetracked the conversation. But the Food Club founders chose to focus their conversation on a new, mutual mission for a greater good and a successful action.

Many of us who are involved in interfaith dialogue and related projects are experienced in the demands and the opportunities of such collaboration. Collaboration is part of the essence and a core value of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University.

This week, Kaufman and its GVSU partners, the Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse, Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, and WGVU Public Media, are sponsoring a conversation that encourages us all to follow the collaborative path:  From Talking Together to Working Together: Strengthening Our Communities Through Putting Talk into Action.

How can we effectively and efficiently put “talk into action” in order to create positive social change in and across communities? In what ways can people move from talking about shared concerns to taking concrete action steps toward shared visions? How do we navigate the challenges and opportunities of the effort? And how can organizations ensure that these action steps and vision emerge from community-driven values, principles, and priorities?

As a part of this year's National Week of Conversation (April 17-23), this virtual panel-led conversation highlights the visionary bridge-building work of local community organizations. Panelists will share some of the joys and challenges involved in their community-based advocacy work and offer examples of how they are successfully working to collaborate across difference. The Q&A portion of the session will offer participants an opportunity to engage in this important conversation.

This session is free and open to the public both locally and nationally. Registration is required.

May this be part of your next “backstory.”

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