There isn’t much Jon Lowder wouldn’t do to raise awareness about summer hunger and children. At least that is to say he hasn’t turned down a challenge… yet.
He has shaved his head: letting the membership of the Piedmont Triad Apartment Association take a swipe with clippers until he was bald. He has done an exhausting stair climb; he has run 18 miles around Salem Lake; he has jumped in a pool wearing a tutu. He has made a dance video.
“That one was the hardest,” he admits. “I never claimed to have rhythm.”
It may all seem a bit silly, but that is the point. “We need to capture people’s attention to bring awareness to this important cause, and if I have to suffer some humiliation along the way, it’s a small price to pay,” says Jon.
Jon Lowder is the Executive Director of the Piedmont Triad Apartment Association, and besides leading and growing the PTAA membership, he has been instrumental in continuing the association’s spotlight on civic engagement, especially around the issues of hunger.
“The issues of local hunger resonate with our membership,” says Jon, observing that many of the people he works with are in a unique position to bear witness to the everyday struggles of their residents. “While our membership represents housing for all sorts of families, we do have affordable housing complexes in our membership. We have families that are one paycheck away from having things fall apart. We know what that looks like.”
Jon points out that people who work in housing are keenly aware of basic needs, since housing is one. “Look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” he says, “We cover shelter and know it well. But there are other needs, like food, that are basic to life.”
And the truth is, many North Carolina families are struggling to cover those basic needs. 1 in 6 people in Northwest North Carolina are food insecure, and that includes 1 in 4 children. Many of these families are employed but have hours or wages that are not enough to cover all of their household bills, no matter how modest they are.
Those precarious household budgets become even more difficult to balance in the summertime when kids are out of school. In the majority of the counties that Second Harvest serves, and in all of the counties in the Triad, more than half of all school-aged children come from families that income-qualify for free or reduced-priced meals at school. When school gets out, those children lose access to the nutritious meals, and parents are left trying to fill the gap. For far too many children, this means that the summer months are long… and hungry.
Jon and the PTAA have strategically timed their annual food and funds drive to help Second Harvest gear up for the increased need that summer brings. Six years ago, PTAA added an event they named Fill the Stands with Cans–a massive food drive at both the Greensboro Grasshopper Stadium as well as at the Winston-Salem Dash. This event, which occurs typically in mid-July, is scheduled by Jon and his team to give the food bank a much-needed food boost as the summer lingers on. The PTAA’s 2018 goal is to raise 225,000 meals for Second Harvest through their efforts.
Since their inception, all these efforts by Jon and the PTAA combined have brought in well over a million meals to Second Harvest Food Bank, allowing us to send food out over the 18 counties that we serve at a critical time of the year.
“This industry attracts people who care,” observes Jon as he recounts the successes of the PTAA efforts over the years. “What they do day in and day out immerses them deeply into the lives of their residents. From that vantage point, they see all sorts of people and all sorts of situations. Often you work at their home: you have to care.”
While that is undoubtedly true, you cannot underestimate the impact of Jon’s rallying for the cause. Every spring, he comes up with a new plan to build morale and encourage participation from his membership–plans that frequently are at the expense of himself. He accepts challenges from his membership in order to raise money. “At first I thought they would challenge me to come out and mow their complex or clean their pool– you know, useful stuff that would give them a break. But now… the tutu has become a real thing.”
Jon is about three weeks into this year’s challenge. He is walking 367 miles in 68 days. Why that distance? It’s the equivalent of walking the perimeter of PTAA’s territory.
There is already a tan line developing where his Fit Bit is strapped to his wrist.
Jon is challenging the PTAA membership to make a commitment to donate a certain amount of money to Second Harvest for every mile he completes. Ever the careful steward of his memberships dollars, he has timed this to coincide with Second Harvest’s $1 for $1 match campaign, turning every $1 donated into $2. In other words, each dollar given will be matched by Second Harvest’s Circle of Champions for Kids to provide twice as many meals for children in need. Jon says that makes his miles worth it.
Before we leave the PTAA offices so Jon can get a quick mile in during his lunch break, we ask him if there has ever been a challenge he hasn’t done. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to raise awareness for this cause,” he says with conviction.
Then he pauses before he continues. “Well, let me rephrase that. Almost nothing.”
We couldn’t help but notice that nowhere in this year’s challenge has the tutu come up. We don’t mention it to Jon while we are talking to him, but we make a note to self to make sure his membership realize this oversight. Could there be a special challenge issued yet? We sure hope so.
UPDATE! This drive is now over and was a HUGE success! Thank you Jon and the PTAA!
Watch for more hijinks and hilarities from Jon and his crew in the future!