Hal Donaldson, founder of Convoy of Hope(Photo: Submitted by Convoy of Hope)
When Convoy of Hope founder Hal Donaldson was 12 years old, his father was hit and killed by an uninsured drunk driver.
"Subsequently, our family was forced to experience the shame of poverty," Donaldson said. "But we also saw firsthand the power of kindness. So many people reached out and helped us make ends meet."
Fast forward to adulthood, Donaldson said he was assigned to write a book for some missionaries in Kolkata, India. While there, his hosts took him to meet Mother Teresa.
"That day, she encouraged me to do 'the next kind thing in front of me,'" Donaldson said via email.
Donaldson said it was his personal experiencewith poverty and Mother Teresa's words that prompted himalong with friends and familyto start handing out groceries to working poor families in California in the early 1990s.
In 2018, Convoy of Hope distributed more than $129 million of product donated by the organization's generous partners. Photo taken at its headquarters in Springfield in 2018.(Photo: Submitted by Convoy of Hope)
And that generous actevolved into Convoy of Hope's Community Events, which still take place across the country today.
Now an international humanitarian-relief organization, Convoy of Hope celebrated its 25-year anniversary this year.
Through the years, Convoy of Hope has distributed over $1 billion infood and supplies to more than 115 million people in need, according to Convoy spokesperson Jeff Nene.
"Over the 25 years, we've engaged a little over 650,000 volunteers,"Nene said. "We've worked with 47,000 different partners, such as churches and organizations."
Convoy's IRS Form 990s also show evidence of that incredible growthin both revenue (contributions) and program expenses.
In 2002, the nonprofit reported $10 million in revenue and $8.9 million in program expenses.
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In 2017, Convoy reported nearly $175 million in revenue and nearly $144 million in program expenses. Administrative expenses were at 2.7 percent.
Charity Navigator has given Convoy of Hope its highest rating (four stars)for 16 consecutive years.
Charity Navigator, a nonprofit itself, is a national service that only evaluates organizations granted tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and that file a Form 990.Thewatchdog organizationlooks at two data sources when evaluating a charity: the IRS Form 990 and the organization's website.
According to its website, Charity Navigator believes that there are two dimensions of a charitys operations that an intelligent giver needs to consider when selecting a charity to support: financial health, and accountability and transparency. The ratings show donors how efficiently a charity will use their support, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time, and their level of commitment to accountability and transparency.
"They (Charity Navigator) kind of set the benchmark for best practices," Nene said. "We look at what they are looking for, how do they define best practices, and we try to shoot for that."
"We want to do it right. We want to do it efficiently. And we want to do it effectively," he said."Transparency is huge. We are transparent as we can be."
Jeff Nene has been the spokesperson for Convoy of Hope since 2002. Prior to that, Nene volunteered with the nonprofit for six years.(Photo: Courtesy of Convoy of Hope)
Nene has been the nationalspokesperson for the organization since 2002.
Prior to that, Nene volunteered with Convoy for six years.
In those early days, Convoy of Hope's ministry was focused on the Community Events, which provide free services and goods to those in need.
"We thought we could help the most people in the shortest amount of time," Nene said, recalling theearly Community Events. "We want to give people a hand up rather than a handout. And that really intrigued me, even back then."
According to Nene, more than 10,000 people were served at that first Community Event in California.
"Looking back, we did so many things wrong logistically. But you learn as you go," he said. "We were really inventing what we do. Nobody else was doing it at the time."
What started as passing out groceries from the back of a pickup truck quickly grew into what are now known as Convoy of Hope Community Events.(Photo: Submitted by Convoy of Hope)
With the Community Events, Convoy of Hope partners with local churches, businesses, community serviceand health organizations to provide guests with groceries, health services, haircuts, family portraits, job services, veteran services, a kids zone, a hot meal, new childrens shoes, and much more. Approximately $1 million worth of goods and services are provided to the 5,000 to 10,000 guests who attend each event.
"They bring together the best a community has to offer," Nene said. "It's not Convoy coming in and doing everything. We come in with a very limited number of people.
"It's locally driven, locally run. We come in and provide the blueprint on how to do it, provide the experience and expertise and instruction. It's a one-day event but internally, you are building relationships between churches and community agencies and people in need."
In 1998, Convoy of Hope responded to its first disaster, the flooding in Del Rio, Texas, after Tropical Storm Charley.
Since then, the nonprofit hasresponded to hurricanes, typhoons, ice storms, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, and floods in the U.S. and throughout the world.
"Between our international and our domestic disaster response teams, we've responded to over 375 disasters through the years," Nene said. "We've responded to 23 disasters this year alone. That is a record for us."
While Convoy is best known for international disaster relief, the organization started a children's feeding program in 2011 that currently feeds200,000 children in El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Honduras, Haiti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania.
"One of the things that contributes to poverty is lack of education," Nene said. "If we can feed kids in school, we have found that parents will send their kids to school. As long as they get them to school if that is the reason then great. Let's appeal to that reason."
"(If) your kids are getting an education, they are going to be less likely to fall back into poverty," he said. "That meal contributes to their education. We've seen in multiple countries, where parents have to make a choice: They are either going to send their kid to school or they are going to send them out to the street corner to beg or to the dump to scavenge."
The people who run the feeding programs are local, because Convoy of Hopewants to be sensitive to the culture, Nene said.
A farmer from Convoy of Hopes program cannot contain her joy as she prepares to sell her harvest at a local market. Photo taken in Tanzania in 2015.(Photo: Submitted by Convoy of Hope)
"We don't want to try to Americanize them," he said. "But yet we want to try to help them."
While much of thefood is donated to Convoy of Hope, the organization then supplements that by buying food produced in the country. This not only makes the program more sustainable but gives the food a local flair.
According to Nene, trying to create these sustainable food sources for the children's feeding program led to the development of Convoy of Hope's agriculture program.
The agriculture program was piloted in Haitifollowing the 2010 earthquake.
Nene said the idea was,rather than "just throwing food off a truck and leave,"to teach the local farmers better techniques.
Convoy hired Dr. Jason Streubel, who hasa Ph.D. in soil science, to go to Haiti and teach a group of about 30 farmers best practices and better techniques for growing rice.
Convoy then promisedto buy a certain percentage of the rice from the farmers for the children's feeding program. In return, the farmers contributed another 10 percent of their yield to the children's feeding program.
"It was successful. And that 30 (farmers) ended up growing to 300," Nene said. "We have now trained over 24,000 people in agriculture practices. That is continuing to grow. This past year was our biggest year ever. We trained over 6,000 people just this past year in 2018."
The numbers for 2019 are not yet available.
The flatbread known as injera is a staple of life in Ethiopia. Teru, a participant in the Womens Empowerment program, makes and sells this flatbread by the stack. Tanzania, 2016, Womens Empowerment.(Photo: Submitted by Convoy of Hope)
Another program associated withthe children's feeding program is Convoy's women's empowerment program, a job-training initiative for the mothers of thechildren served.
"We work with local churches in those countries because they know the community better than anybody," Nene said. "We identify women that really want to improve their situation."
"The first thing we do is teach them that they are worth something. They are not a piece of property," he said. "Then we take them through basic business principles."
Convoy then helps the women identify needs and business opportunities in their communities and help them put together a business plan.
Convoy gives the women "seed capital" to help start abusiness and follows up with them for that first year.
"It's almost like a mentoring-type program for that next year. And the success rate has been huge," Nene said. "We've had over 18,000 women go through that program."
To learn more about other Convoy of Hope programs orvolunteer opportunities here in Springfield, visitconvoyofhope.org.
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