Nonprofit leader urges college students to volunteer in communities

Josh Stacks combines music and hunger awareness to eradicate poverty 
by: Maayan Schechter, Assistant Campus Voice editor, [email protected]

Hunger and homelessness plague the United States and, while many Americans contribute during the holiday season, an Asheville resident has made it his life’s career and passion to help those in need throughout the year.
Josh Stack’s epiphany came as the Dalai Lama delivered the commencement address when he walked in 1998 from the Oxford College at Emory University in Georgia.
Stack remembers the moment clearly.
“I was on the pre-law corporate track and I’m sitting there thinking, holy shit, you are right,” Stack said. “Initiative trumps apathy. It takes someone to light that spark. You must be told no. You must be proactive.”
Stack then combined the two things he knew best: rock music and widespread hunger.
From widespread hunger came Widespread Panic. Widespread Panic, a rock band from Athens, Ga., started in 1986, peaked about 2002-2003 and consistently sells out amphitheaters and arenas. Panic is largely associated with legendary groups like Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band and Phish. Originally, the band was not known as a huge humanitarian group. But then Stack approached the band’s management asking if they would be willing to team up with food banks across the country. Thus, Stacks’ nonprofit organization, Funding America Through Entertainment was founded, establishing connection and friendship with Panic.
Beginning in 1999, FATE combines rock shows, food and fans to help combat hunger nationally.
“In FATE, we focus on hand ups, not hand outs,” Stack said. “What I do now is basically panic but on steroids. I’m going to shows; people come up and bring money that would otherwise go to an $8 beer. Eight dollars can pretty much feed 24 kids on average.”
Stack said with shows, you can get a band like Panic, hit up a major corporation like Ingles and get them to donate $10,000 for co-branding. Basically, Panic would talk about hunger and homelessness, and FATE facilitates the link with the company.
The corporation gains exposure to a different demographic, the rock and roll demographic.
Stack has worked with MANNA Food Bank in Asheville where he was communications director. MANNA Food Bank is the largest food bank within North Carolina, serving 16 counties and distributing more than 10 million pounds of food annually, according to statistics from Feeding America, a network of food banks across the country.
North Carolina has a food insecurity rate of almost 20 percent, meaning at some time during the year, many will not always know when or where their next meal will come from. More than 20 percent of children in the state live in poverty.
Stack said the 2008 dip in the economy especially hit people in the mountain communities hard. The demographics of those seeking food assistance shifted, from those chronically poor to those less fortunate, affecting more generations of Americans. Textile and furniture manufacturing jobs in the region were lost. Many people who dealt in real estate or worked as contractors found themselves under employed. Children suffered, in particular.
“There were many multigenerational issues,” Stack said. “Like for example grandma and grandpa have a pension plan and social security, and then the grandchildren have to move in with them because their parents have lost jobs. After the grandchildren move in with them, the supplies are then strained.”
According to Feeding America, in the United States, one out of five children lives in a household with food insecurity. According to the Department of Agriculture, almost 17 million children under age 18 in the United States lack access to nutritious food and adequate amounts of food.
When former presidential nominee Mitt Romney told a room of wealthy donors at a Boca Raton, Fla., fundraiser that 47 percent of the country felt entitled to government handouts and considered themselves as victims, many were outraged. The 47 percent is part veteran, active military men and women, low-income workers and seniors.
Stack laughs and smirks at the media’s role regarding hunger and homelessness, as well as Romney’s 47 percent comment.
“Less than 20 percent of people that are qualified for food stamps are not willing to work. Almost half are employed,” Stack said. “There needs to be bigger exposure. The ones at the bottom are going to suffer the most. They are pigeon held into a stereotype of a lazy person who just wants a hand out.”
More exposure means media attention not just during Thanksgiving and the holiday season. In order to fix the hunger issue that many of us are willing to ignore, we need to volunteer and donate our time, money and canned goods.
“The media doesn’t do enough,” Stack said. “There are certain people within the media who want to, but they are hamstrung by profits. There is a lack of follow up and accountability.”
According to Stack, Asheville is its own beast of uniqueness. Other cities can be cookie cutter; Asheville is a very compassionate place. As repetitive as it may seem, college students have the capacity to help facilitate change as Stack has done for many years.
While the living is simple, Stack said, he has been able to do more with less. “I haven’t missed out on shit,” Stack said.
Stack believes students can have an impact on education. You can gain knowledge from reading a book, but if you cannot experience it, you will not get the validation. Stack said college taught him how to think and problem solve.  The world is what taught him how to believe and act.
For those who believe that the 47 percent rule is just, volunteer, go out and carry boxes. Help stack shelves and distribute food to a pantry. Look at the people standing in line and talk with each and every one of them. That is the true education.
“If you think people are scamming the system, come with me to learn,” Stack said. “This country is blessed with a multitude of nonprofits who could use volunteers.”
For more information on FATE, please visit: