By Sal Mondelli
360 Communities President & CEO

360 Communities believes every person should have the opportunity to live a safe, healthy and successful life. We work diligently to turn this belief into reality by engaging communities to prevent violence, ensure school success and promote long-term self-sufficiency. This work takes a passionate staff, an engaged community and a sea of talented volunteers.

Over 1,100 volunteers support our mission every year, sharing their gifts in a variety of capacities. Some work in our food shelves, some help survivors of sexual and domestic violence with court advocacy, some provide administrative support, and much more. And then there are families like the Willenburgs, who make giving back a family project.

Four years ago, Jerry and Joanna Willenburg were having dinner with their daughters, Nicole and Amber, when the subject of a church holiday food drive came up in their conversation. One daughter wondered why collections of food for the hungry seem to only happen around the holidays, asking, “Aren’t people hungry all year long?”

The family talked about their good fortune in life and discussed ways they might make an impact year-round. Driven by the mantra, “with blessing comes responsibility,” they took action. Together, tapping into Jerry’s experience in the food service/restaurant industry, they formed the Burnsville Restaurant Alliance Volunteer Organization (BRAVO) and began knocking on doors of local businesses to see if they would be willing to donate surplus food inventory each month. Pepsico, Coca-cola, Costco, Old Country Buffet, Outback Steakhouse, Chart House, Roasted Pear, and more have been
BRAVO contributors.

BRAVO businesses donated in their different ways. Some gave $100 of food product each month and some donated gift cards. Coca Cola and Pepsico regularly delivered water and soft drinks to the food shelves. Costco made regular donations as well and one year donated an entire pallet of turkeys before the holidays. One restaurant manager donated $100 out of his own pocket every month.

The Willenburg family picked up food and made weekly deliveries to the 360 Communities Burnsville Food Shelf. Amber recalls filling the food shelf with loaves of bread one week and coming back the next week to discover there was none left. “It showed me that there was an incredible amount of need out there,” she says.

BRAVO is winding down as an organization. As Jerry starts a new career at Aramark and daughters Nicole and Amber are away at college, the time commitment is just too much to keep it going. But the relationships the Willenburgs helped forge between 360 Communities and BRAVO participating businesses will continue. “It’s a little bittersweet to see it end, but we are proud of what we have been able to do with BRAVO,” says Jerry. He estimates the retail value of the BRAVO donations over the past four years was more than a quarter of a million dollars.

Joanna works as a school secretary for ISD 191. She says she sees the need in the community walk through Burnsville school doors every day. “It is gratifying for me to give to an organization like 360 Communities, knowing that it is going back to families right here in our community.”

The Willenburgs have shown that if you see a need, there are ways to put your talents to work as a force for good in the community. Jerry says that whatever your passion is, you can make a difference – even if you think the issue is too big of a problem for you to tackle, like hunger. “Doing something is better than doing nothing,” he says.

Each year, 360 Communities serves nearly 10,000 people through our network of five food shelves. Volunteers make this possible. Churches, businesses and other organizations make this possible. Funders make this possible. Engaged communities make this possible. Families like the Willenburgs make this possible.

If you would like to give back to your community, consider volunteering or donating to 360 Communities. Your gift goes far with an organization that has an entire network of stabilizing resources to holistically support families and put them on the path to sustainable success.