The average age of a homeless person in the United States 15 years ago was 55. Today, that average has fallen to nine. Stan Curtis, founder of USA Harvest and winner of the Nobel Prize for Goodness, during his lecture at USF on Monday said these are the numbers that drive his organization.
“Your neighbors in this community live on the outskirts of hope,” he said. “Some because of their poverty, some even because of their color, but nowadays, all too many because of their birth.”
Curtis, who himself lived in an orphanage and had an alcoholic father, said he sees children daily who are locked into their position of poverty.
“I’ve got 9-year-old children that don’t know how to spell poverty, and yet they’re committed to a life of lack of opportunity because they were born into it,” he said.
Curtis said his organization raises over a million pounds of food a day. The work, he said, is done on the backs of 107,000 volunteers. Curtis said only through volunteers can problems such as hunger be solved.
“I think that giving money is too cheap,” he said. “It’s about time you give yourself.”
Curtis said the idea for USA Harvest, which he started in 1987, came to him as he ate dinner at a restaurant in his hometown of Louisville, Kent. He said he saw the workers at the restaurant throw away a tray of green beans and thought about people who needed food.
“The thought occurred to me, ‘Gosh, I wonder if those people would like the green beans,'” he said. “Now I assure you, that is exactly how (USA Harvest) started.”
Curtis said he now spends about 60 percent of his day working for the organization, as well as traveling the country to promote volunteering and giving. He said he is thankful to be involved in such a cause.
“I’m thankful every day I get up because I know I’m going to do something to make someone’s day better,” he said.
USA Harvest is the top food-collecting agency in the country. There are 120 harvest centers in the United States, Scotland, Russia and Canada. Of these harvest centers, the Tampa Bay center has the highest yearly collections, gathering seven million pounds of food per year. Food collecting efforts have occurred with the help of celebrities at concert events such as Farm Aid, he said. Curtis encourages people to get involved and volunteer their efforts.
“Any American who is hopeless and homeless diminishes us all,” Curtis said. “I believe it’s a human thing to want to do something.”
According to Curtis, help is needed immediately as several organizations are under-funded and struggling.
“The donations Americans are giving to agencies are going down,” Curtis said. “Most of the campaigns are about to close.”Curtis said real leadership is what’s needed in solving society’s problems. Real leadership, he said, comes not from doing the safe thing, but from taking chances. He said leadership has failed when there are people starving and homeless.
“If you think you’re going to exercise leadership in a safe area where you feel comfortable doing it, that’s not real leadership,” he said. “If the true definition of leadership is to improve the performance of the whole group rather than to celebrate the accomplishments of one individual, then leadership must be exercised where the risk of leadership is the greatest.”
Curtis challenged the audience of mostly students to do their part to improve the world around them. He said everyone can find people in the world with similar views to work with for their cause.”Do something, anything, because it’s the time in your life for you to do that,” he said. “Everyone in this room stands for something, and if you don’t, I’m sorry.”
Curtis, who is a successful businessman, started his USA Harvest at the age of 37. He said he often thinks about how much more he could have done if he had started the organization earlier in his life.
“You don’t have to be 37 years old to stand for something,” Curtis said. “Don’t wait until you’re 37 years old. Don’t wait until you’re 27 years old.”
Student Jasmine Wilkins attended the lecture and said she was impressed with Curtis’ lecture.
“I thought it was very informative,” she said. “I think it’s good that he works for something that’s not for profit.”
Wilkins said the extent to which USA Harvest has grown is surprising.
“It’s amazing that he’s gotten so many people involved, (especially) celebrities,” she said.
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