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Roughly 12 years ago, I was toiling on the floor of a pal’s dining room, constructing a banner. I’d just begun dating the man I’d eventually marry, and was keeping myself occupied during our first stretch apart since meeting. He was off riding his bike to raise money for Food & Friends, as I slapped together a ”welcome home” banner with which to greet him on the National Mall.
I’ve never volunteered for Food & Friends myself, but I’ve certainly married into the family. Working in LGBT media in D.C., there’s actually a sort of prohibition against volunteering for them. I’m not supposed to get that involved with organizations I may be reporting on. And, through the years, I’ve certainly reported on Food & Friends. I toured the Northeast facility shortly after it opened in 2004. I’ve collected recipes from staff for a feature story. My favorite Food & Friends story is from 2005, when Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large) tapped the organization at a moment’s notice to deliver 400 hot meals to the D.C. Armory to feed Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
Other stories – not mine – relating to Food & Friends had to do with Pallotta TeamWorks, which managed the ride my now-husband was on when I made his banner. That relationship ended when Pallotta TeamWorks tanked amid criticism of its business model. Food & Friends Executive Director Craig Shniderman has also taken some flak for his $350,000-plus salary. While in my perfect world charities wouldn’t be necessary as government would smoothly and efficiently make best use of taxes to eliminate social ills – and, yes, I know perfection does not exist – I don’t have any issue with Shniderman’s salary. After all, the guy who runs D.C.-based LivingSocial is reportedly worth $180 million, according to Complex. And plenty of starting K Street lobbyists seem to fare at least as well. Feeding about 3,000 clients across 5,300 square miles – give or take – I think Shniderman certainly earns his keep, whether running around 17th Street in drag during Dining Out for Life, recruiting his family to help prepare Food & Friends’ Thanksgiving meals, or just steadily growing an organization that is a lifeline to so many in need.
In these years since I made my banner – which was a big hit, by the way – I find myself still not a volunteer, but married into the Food & Friends family. These days, I recuse myself from writing news coverage of the organization. I would recuse myself from attending the volunteer appreciation dinners, as I don’t in any way deserve the tasty buffet, but my husband insists I accompany him. Last Thursday, I was very glad to be there, though, to watch our friend Claudia receive her certificate of recognition for five years of service, delivering meals far and wide. And I’ll be at Chef’s Best next month, as this is my husband’s first year on the host committee, his last days-long fundraising ride being a few years ago. From each according to his ability, as the communists say.
Till then, there is Dining Out for Life, and I hope to be there, too. As of this writing, I don’t yet know where – whether it will be a 25 percent or 100 percent sponsor, or somewhere in between – but we’ll certainly be there. And I will be there with gratitude for the restaurants that participate, for the many volunteers who make it all possible, and to Food & Friends for doing work that makes the world a far better place than it would otherwise be.
Will O’Bryan is Metro Weekly’s managing editor. Email him at wobryan@MetroWeekly.com. Follow him on Twitter @wobryan.