Greg Barber – feeding people hungry to read

From its earliest days, has enjoyed broad support of the magazine publishing industry, beginning with invitations to set-up at the annual FOLIO: tradeshow in New York City. Those shows were a pivotal opportunity to collide with industry thought leaders and many vendors who became long-time friends of our fledgling mission. Most vendor set-ups arrived by special delivery. Ours arrived in the trunk of my car, parked too many blocks from the convention hall. On the morning of one of those shows, I was trying to carry tables, crates, signs, and boxes of flyers to set up at the show and crossed paths with Greg who immediately reached out to help with the materials. He’s been carrying our project and message in his heart and hands ever since – supporting marketing needs, and serving as an ambassador for our program throughout New Jersey and Long Island.

River Food Pantry and Spider Magazine

I have near thirty years supporting hunger relief efforts in local communities and nationwide that began with supermarket food drives when I came upon a soup kitchen with no food in 1986. A few years later, thinking about the magazines I loved to read and the ones that my children loved to receive, it occurred to me that the children and families we were feeding didn’t have access to reading materials, and in particular the beautiful magazines we all enjoy – thus was born, with angel investments from Austin Kiplinger – who served as Chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees when I was Chairman of the campus government there, the Majeski Foundation, and later FosterPrinting, who found us at the FOLIO:Show. Even today, Reading is Fundamental says that two-thirds of the 16 million children in poverty live in home with no books – an astonishing statistic. With millions of magazines available throughout the publishing supply chain, we can fix that.
I’ve known from the start that we could get magazines into the hands, homes, and hearts of children and families hungry to read via the same massive humanitarian pipeline that channels food to hungry people via the vast national network of foodbanks. I was mentored early on by Bill Ayers who co-founded WhyHunger with Harry Chapin. I was pumped up about an idea to put a magazine in every grocery bag and backpack leaving every food pantry. Bill gently suggested that people should be able to choose their own magazines. With help from Doug Forrestal at Ryleco we are starting to place magazines newsstands in food pantries like the River in Madison, WI. Each food bank supplies hundreds of community feeding programs, many of which conduct nutrition education, job training, and literacy work, reaching hundreds of thousands of people. With magazines supplied by Hearst, and Conde Nast and consumers coast to coast via collections like the one at the Kitchen Gallery, we are getting culinary magazines to job training programs at food banks that train homeless and unemployed to be chefs and bakers.

The Community Food Bank of New Jersey – founded by Kathleen DiChiara in the trunk of her car (it now takes a golf cart to tour her New Jersey food bank compound) – and Long Island Cares – also founded by Harry Chapin – alone feed over 1 million people in the areas hardest hit and still recovering from Superstorm Sandy. In these regions and in every community, hunger is like a hurricane that never ends.

So, when our dream came true and hundreds of thousands of magazines started pouring in to food banks in New Jersey and Long Island – 150,000 children’s magazines from the Edwards Publishing family in Ohio and more than 120,000 copies from across all Conde Nast titles – I knew immediately who to call. Greg, who had launched Neil’s Wheels, an incredible feeding program on Long Island with his son Neil, immediately went to work on the ground – reaching out to Long Island Cares, the Gerald Ryan Outreach Center – where we have delivered thousands of children’s and consumer magazines, the Rotary Club, known for large-scale literacy operations around the world, and other community leaders.
Greg is part of a dream team of literacy champions who believe in us and who light our fire and fuel our spirit every day. There will be many more good stories to come as we work together to share the magazines we love to get vital reading materials into hands, homes, and hearts of new readers.
Godspeed Greg Barber, godspeed!
Tell the world.