North County charity gives more than $200,000 to feed hungry

jhickey@thetribunenews.comJuly 3, 2013 

A Paso Robles nonprofit that pools wine industry resources has embarked on a $220,000 mission to alleviate child hunger north of the grade.

Must! Charities, founded in 2010, has made a commitment with the Food Bank Coalition of SLO County to kickstart the food bank’s “Real Food for Real Children” program, which was established in 2010 but needs money to extend its impact and become self-sustaining.

So far, the program feeds 500 children in need during the summer months, when free or reduced school lunches are not available.

“We’re proud we’ve started, but the gap is huge,” said Wendy Lewis, chief operating officer of the Food Bank.

Throughout the county, there are 16,000 kids receiving free or reduced lunches at school who go without that help in the summer.

Must! Charities plans to provide the Food Bank with two years of funds to grow its lunch service to 1,500 children by summer 2014 and up to 2,500 kids the following year.

“We can’t wait for the policymakers and government to take care of the needs of the community,” said Becky Gray, executive director of Must! Charities.

The program can only become self-sustaining if the number of children served grows, because the Food Bank can negotiate lower prices for a higher volume of food purchased.

Must! Charities has set benchmark goals for the Food Bank to meet before it can receive the full $220,000 in funding, Gray said. 

The collaboration with the Food Bank is the second major project for Must! Charities. It’s also paying the salary of the executive director at the Boys & Girls Club of North San Luis Obispo County for two years so that the club can reorganize and begin strategic planning for its future. The club “had been surviving month to month and was in danger of closing its doors,” according to Must!’s website.

Must! Charities’ board of directors consists mostly of wine industry professionals, and its donor pool consists of more than 90 partners — about one-third of which are in the wine business. Many donate a portion of monthly profits.

Wineries are often approached for charitable donations, so owners and industry leaders decided to try to make a bigger impact by combining funds for targeted projects with existing community organizations.

The nonprofit reported $79,900 of income in 2011, according to nonprofit tracker Guidestar.

“We are ‘Venture Philanthropists’ who are coming together, pooling our funds, to invest heavily in a ‘futures’ market,” Gray said. “However, instead of looking for a cash return, we are looking for a positive social return in our communities.” 



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