A Global Giving Tuesday: Food and Families

The Huffington Post


November 27, 2012

Tim Harris, CEO and Co-Founder, La Tienda

The holidays are a time to celebrate with friends, family and, of course, food. The family recipes, the shared stories and the tradition of big meals around the table with those most dear to us are what make the holidays memorable.

Even as we enjoy the food we love, it's easy to forget where it came from, and the people who took the time and care to make it.

I know this better than most -- our family business, La Tienda, has been importing gourmet and artisanal food from small Spanish producers for over 15 years. Together with my family, our life every day truly revolves around food.

In the spirit of "Giving Tuesday," we wanted to give back this holiday season. As we considered where to help, our attention was drawn to the headlines coming out of Spain. We count the families who make the products we sell as not just colleagues, but as friends.

Spain is undergoing an economic crisis that threatens many of those friends and colleagues. As we spoke with them, we began to understand that mixed with wounded pride was an underlying fear: that Spain was headed back to a painful past.

Having grown up at the end of the Franco era in the 1970s in Spain, I can recall firsthand the poverty of that time. The struggle of that era is in the living memory of many Spaniards today. Despite the last three decades of incredible development, a magnificent World Cup win and growing global appreciation of Spanish food and culture, Spain finds itself now facing economic collapse.

Given our deep personal relationship with the country and the hundreds of thousands of customers who share our love of Spain, we decided we had to step up. Our family business has donated to American food banks extensively in the past and we'd seen how critical these resources are to families in need.

We decided to launch our "Campaign for Spain," a fundraiser to support food banks in Spain. We were quickly joined by actress, advocate and Madrid native Penelope Cruz in our campaign, adding her voice to our push to help families in need this holiday season.

We swung into action. My brother Jonathan and I traveled to Spain in October to speak with friends, vendors and everyday people on the street. To visit tourist centers like Madrid or Barcelona one could easily come away with the impression that things were not all that bad. But in the countryside, the impact of the crisis was more readily apparent, with shops and restaurants shuttered and many half-completed construction projects. The strong family networks that have sustained so many through "La Crisis," as it is known, are strained to the point of breaking. We also learned that while the Spanish government is cutting social aid, the European Union is also proposing a 30 percent cut in contributions to Spanish food banks.

We met with the Spanish Federation of Food Banks (FESBAL) in Madrid, which coordinates food donations across every region of Spain. We sat down with the President and volunteers of FESBAL and toured the main Madrid distribution center. We learned that in the last six months the number of Spanish families seeking help has dramatically increased. We were so inspired by their team that we decided our family company would offer a match for the funds raised.

With the right partner to distribute our donations, we headed back to Virginia. We had a solid plan and our team was energized. We posted about the Campaign for Spain on our Facebook page and waited for feedback.

We all sat and waited for the first Facebook responses to come in, our eyes glued to the monitors and iPhone screens. Our community of Spain enthusiasts rallied and our website donations began to flow immediately, quickly raising over $10,000 in just over a week.

We thought that the public would add perhaps five or ten dollars to their order as they checked out -- instead, they added $50, $100, even $250. School groups pledged to help our efforts, business partners committed to donate. We've been inspired by how many have joined us in our little campaign that we hope will have a big impact.

The Campaign for Spain runs through January 31st and we're on track to far exceed our goals. Even more than the funds raised, we've been reminded of the unbelievable capacity of Americans to help those in need, even while we are also facing hardships at home. People are helping Spain and also helping people in their own community or giving relief for the victims of Sandy. People have told us they feel blessed to be able to help people at home and around the world.

There are local food drives and holiday fundraisers that will help families in need in your community that we hope you will support. We hope you will also join us. Whether the person in need is in our family, in our town or in a place far away, they are all equally deserving of our support.

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