A Simple Gesture

Sharing Food In Our Community. Serving Paradise and Magalia, California

Enterprise Record smiles on A Simple Gesture

‘We can feed our hungry’ — A Simple Gesture: Neighbors feeding neighbors

Karen and Jonathan Trivers

By KYRA GOTTESMAN – Correspondent

Posted: 07/28/2011 12:12:22 AM PDT

Karen and Jonathan Trivers, who moved to Paradise four years ago, have started A Simple Gesture ...

PARADISE:­ One in five, or 20.3 percent of Butte County households are at or below poverty level. That means there are a lot of our neighbors who are hungry, according to Jonathan Trivers.

"This downturn in the economy has hit young families and single parents the hardest. The younger the family, ages 19 to 34, the more likely they are to be in desperate economic straights. And 75 percent of single moms and their kids live in poverty," he said. His numbers come from the American Community Survey for the Census.

"For these families, it’s no longer a question of eating the right food. It’s do they have enough food. The new poor, the new hungry are our children and grandchildren. It’s brutal," said Trivers, 67, who is a father of five and grandfather of 17.

A simple solution

That’s why Trivers and his wife Karen started A Simple Gesture. It is a grass roots food collection effort in which neighbor feeds neighbor by purchasing one or two extra non-perishable foods each time they go to the grocery store. These items are placed in a re-useable "cool green bag" picked up by the Triverses or one of their volunteers every two months. Then the food gets distributed among six different food pantries on the ridge.

"It’s so simple that it’s absolutely breathtaking," said Jonathan Trivers.

What the Triverses have discovered since they introduced the idea to a couple of their neighbors in December is that nearly everyone, even those who don’t have disposable income, want to contribute to others. A Simple Gesture provides them the mechanism to do so.

"We started with one or two bags out there and the success has been mind-boggling. Nearly one in 10 homes in Paradise has a cool green bag," said Trivers.

A calling

The Triverses are not neophytes when it comes to helping others. The couple moved to Paradise four years ago from Nova Scotia where they hosted a summer camp on their own property for disadvantaged and disabled children. The nonprofit camp’s name was also A Simple Gesture.

"We moved to Nova Scotia from Sarasota, Fla., in the middle of winter in 2001. It was a little crazy but we really felt we had a calling," said Jonathon Trivers. "Then six years later we had a calling to come to California — only that call was from our kids and it was collect."

A business consultant in the flooring industry, Jonathan Trivers travels the country on business so his home base can be anywhere.

Karen, who retired years ago from the custom framing business, said her full-time job is "managing Jonathan and A Simple Gesture."

When the couple closed the camp and moved, the law required that as a nonprofit A Simple Gesture had to either give its money to a like charity or redirect it. The couple chose to redirect the money into fighting hunger.

Pantry shelves

"We looked at who was serving meals to the hungry and there were just two churches serving two lunches a week. There are 45 churches here and we were underwhelmed by those who were not participating and thought they could do much better," he said.

Through A Simple Gesture, the couple offered up a two-year financial promise to local churches willing to either start or expand their free meal programs. Today, six ridge churches and the Family Resource Center are, in all, are serving meals sevens days a week. That’s an increase from 6,800 meals annually to 35,000.

While the increase in free meals was making a difference, the Triverses, who volunteered serving meals, saw firsthand it still wasn’t enough. More and more families with young children were coming in needing not just a meal but groceries. The two local food pantries just didn’t have enough food or money, said Karen Trivers.

"These families needed groceries and not just once a month or once in a while in emergencies. They were in emergency mode all the time," she said.

A cool, green acre

While visiting their oldest son in Ashland, Ore., Karen Trivers learned about a community hunger program, the Ashland Food Project. It was this program upon which the Trivers modeled A Simple Gesture.

"Our deal with the food pantries was we’ll help supply you with food, good food, not 4,000 cans of government corn, to give away. But you have to allow people to come twice a month and get enough for a family of four," said Jonathon Trivers.

The local pantries agreed and several other pantries opened up; ridge residents embraced the program and cool green bags went from supplying 6,000 pounds of food in February to 15,400 pounds in June.

Saw Mill Creek Farm

But it still wasn’t enough. The couple wanted to add fresh foods to the pantries’ offerings so "the cool green bag people," as the Triverses are known, enrolled Brian Marshall and Nancy Heinzel, owners of Saw Mill Creek Farm, into leasing an acre of land to grow organic produce for A Simple Gesture.

"Everyone deserves healthy local produce and we love being a part of A Simple Gesture," said Marshall.

While Marshall and Heinzel do the majority of work on the food program’s acre, developmentally disabled adults from another nonprofit, California Vocations, assist in harvesting, cool green bag delivery and pickup.

"A Simple Gesture provides an opportunity for these individuals to contribute. They absolutely love it, so it’s a win-win for everyone," said Bob Irvine, California Vocation’s executive director.

Coming to Biggs

The success of A Simple gesture has spread beyond Paradise and Magalia. Biggs has also started A Simple Gesture program with its first bag pickup in August, and another program has started in Cummings, Ga. The Triverses are also presenting the program to people in other communities in Ohio and Oregon as well as in Gridley and Orland.

"Here’s the deal: Poverty and hunger are only going to increase but we have proven through A Simple Gesture that a community can sustain itself. We can feed our hungry," said Trivers. "We can transform our towns."


How simple can it be?

What: A Simple Gesture, a nonprofit 501(c) 3, is a door-to-door food collection program that provides a steady supply of food to food pantries to help feed the hungry on the ridge;

Where: 1,279 homes in Paradise and Magalia;

How to help: Sign up to receive a cool green bag. A green bag is delivered to a volunteer’s home. Each week when that person shops for groceries he or she buys one extra nonperishable food item and stores it in the cool green bag. On the second Saturday of every even month (Feb., April, June, Aug., Oct and Nov.) a volunteer will pick up the full bag and leave an empty one.

Feet on the ground: 80 pick-up and delivery drivers plus five driver-team leaders

Pantries supplied: Ridge Presbyterian, St. Thomas Moore Catholic Church, St. Nicholas Episcopal, Salvation Army, Help for People and Magalia Food Pantry (Since A Simple Gesture started in December these food pantries have been able to increase the number of people they feed by 20 percent.)

Food delivered in June : 15,400 pounds

Wish list: More homes with cool green bags; more communities with A Simple Gesture program