March 8, 2019
Shawn Gullixson, Vectra Bank and School District 11 board member, spoke in front of a crowd of more than 1,200 people at Care and Share Food Bank’s Recipe for Hope 2019 luncheon on Thursday, March 7. He shared his story of childhood hunger and how community support can change lives. Below is his speech in its entirety.
Thank you all for being here! It’s so encouraging to see so many from our community here to support a cause that is near and dear to my heart, and to my story. And that’s what I want to take a few minutes to talk a little more about this afternoon – story. My story as a receiver, and your story as a giver. My story as a chance to be taken, and your story as the chance-taker.
As the video highlighted, I did not grow up with much. For many of you who know me professionally and in the community, that isn’t something I bring up or talk about often. Part of the reason for that is because it is so long ago, but another part is because we all operate in story. We tell ourselves stories about ourselves, and we tell ourselves stories about others. And this honestly isn’t an easy part of my story to share. I’m not ashamed of it, but I am aware that it might change the story that some of you may have about me, and frankly, it’s causing me to ‘own’ my story more.
Much of my childhood was a story of scarcity, instability, and even hunger at times. It’s a little sobering to realize how much food can play a part in a story, especially when you have experienced times of not knowing where the next meal might come from. Imagine the distraction in your day…
My mom had three boys under the age of 3 by 21, and was a single mom soon after. My mom worked hard to make ends meet, and most of the time she did. But it often required that we moved – I can count at least a dozen schools over five states between kindergarten and the 6th grade – when I arrived in Colorado Springs. As a result, I rarely made meaningful friendships because I knew any given day I could be in a new school. In fact, it wasn’t really until high school that I remember being invited over to friends’ houses for a meal – and with any luck some of Mama Singletons famous seafood gumbo.
But even though we were frequently in between schools and living situations, my mom did a great job of making the best of any circumstance. My mom was not one to accept help easily, and she only did so when the situation was truly beyond her control and she couldn’t provide on her own. That was something I will always admire about her. And while my mom did her best to make sure those situations were as infrequent as possible, our story was not without the darker shadows of domestic violence, losing our home to a fire and being homeless overnight, and other unpredictable events that led to a need satisfied by organizations like Care and Share.
One event was in the 3rd grade when my mom’s friend and roommate lost her job and in the middle of the night packed up and moved out. This left my mom responsible for all the household expenses, and meals became inconsistent once again. It was at this time I learned about powdered milk. Anyone tried it? Even know it existed? I didn’t either. After trying it, we got creative and discovered water as a fine alternative…you simply needed to eat your cheerios as fast as you could, and with your eyes closed. Once the milk was gone, we were not always afforded the luxury of simply buying another gallon. We could wait days until moms next paycheck.
I also remember being excited when she came home with a box of food. She would pull each item out one at a time as if it was Christmas. It was usually followed by rules and with milk in particular, rations. We each were allowed enough milk for one bowl of cereal a day.
That time in our lives was one in which my story and the story of folks who gave to food banks intersected. Whenever my mom came home with a box of food it taught me that total strangers could care about the meal on my table and resources to help guide my family through difficult times, and that was a lesson that built a foundation of giving back and serving my community that I do my best to live out today.
One of my wife’s favorite quotes comes from President James Garfield and he said, “I never meet a ragged boy in the street without feeling that I may owe him a salute, for I know not what possibilities be buttoned up under his coat.” I appreciate that quote too because I’m sure that to many I appeared to be just a ‘ragged boy’ when I was a kid. But the meals and assistance that strangers gave were a proverbial salute to the possibilities that lay ahead in my life.
I could not have dreamed at a young age that I would grow up to have two beautiful, talented daughters, an exciting career in economic development through banking, and a chance to sit on the board of Colorado Springs’ largest school district. I list these things with deep humility knowing that I am where I am because of the many people over the years who saw the possibilities in my life, and gave me opportunities beyond what I could have dreamed. And where those possibilities all started was a warm meal and some milk, provided by people like you. Those meals symbolized a chance to live a different story, a chance to do something different for my daughters and their futures.
In a day and age when faceless giving has become easier and easier to practice, I hope that today you walk away with a face of someone for whom giving has now come full circle. I hope that today you walk away knowing that your gift is more than just some money or some food – it’s a chance at connection, family and possibility for so many in our city. It’s a chance to change someone’s story.
Your donation might feed a future Executive Director, CEO, teacher, or even a future banker.
However, your story intersects with another’s, my hope is that you leave today knowing that being on the receiving end of your compassion was never faceless.