A Simple Gesture: A Big Impact

Green grocery bags from A Simple Gesture sit on the counter at West End Ministries in High Point, NC.

David Lees has never struggled with food insecurity.  

“I live in North High Point, and I can be at two Harris Teeters, two Food Lions and a Publix within about three and a half miles,” David says. “I’ve never had to worry where my next meal will come from, but I’m unique.” 

While David knew that High Point, NC was ranked as one of the top places in the nation for food insecurity – the measure of an individual’s access to food – it wasn’t until he heard about A Simple Gesture did he realize that he could be part of the solution.  

A Simple Gesture – a national non-profit founded in Paradise, California, is exactly what the name implies: a simple gesture. Because the simplest gestures – when done with intention and vision – can have the biggest impact.  

“A Simple Gesture started when a group of friends sitting around said, ‘The food pantry shelves are bare, what are we going to do about it?’” explains Karen Brudnak, Outreach Coordinator for the High Point chapter of A Simple Gesture. That original founding group of friends in California all agreed to fill up grocery bags, and take turns picking them up and delivering them to area food pantries.  

David Lees, Director of Volunteers at A Simple Gesture in High Point, NC stands in the West End Ministries food pantry.
David Lees, Director of Volunteer Drivers

As that original group of friends grew, they created a cycle and system to make it easy for the community to provide food to their local food pantries. Volunteers would fill up a reusable green grocery bag with non-perishable food items and leave it on their front porch. One Saturday every other month, volunteer drivers would drive a route to fill their vehicle with the bags, leaving an empty bag for the food donators in its place. Those drivers would then take those full grocery bags to local food pantries to ensure their shelves were well-stocked for the coming month.  

The idea grew at such a rate of success that eventually the Wall Street Journal picked up the story. A man in Greensboro, NC, Bob Biggerstaff, read the story and decided the same thing could happen in Guilford County. From there, A Simple Gesture eventually moved its national headquarters to Greensboro and expanded into High Point – which is how David first learned about the organization.  

Leslie Isakoff, COO at A Simple Gesture, came one Sunday to First United Methodist Church in High Point, and spoke to their missions committee about serving as a partner to start a High Point chapter of A Simple Gesture. David, who was on the missions committee at the time, felt his heart move with compassion for those without food in his city.  

“Several of us just said yes,” he says, noting that it was a no-brainer, given it cost the church nothing and empowered their members with a simple way to love and serve their fellow neighbors. “The problem isn’t that there isn't food in High Point; the problem is the distribution... It went out to my heart that people are in need. I had a voice, and I decided to use it.” 

Today, David is the Director of Volunteer Drivers and Vice Chair of Board of Directors at A Simple Gesture. In a little over three and a half years, the High Point team has grown from three drive teams to now more than 28 drive teams. They pick up groceries from over 800 homes in the area.  

Joining A Simple Gesture’s team is easy – you can sign up to receive a green bag to fill on your regular trip to the grocery store. Or, you can join as a volunteer driver – as A Simple Gesture is in real need for additional drivers. The drivers are only needed one Saturday every other month, and the routes are usually only 30-40 miles. The team at A Simple Gesture makes it easy, providing all drivers with a list of pick-up spots and map software that will give them step-by-step instructions. 

Want to join in with A Simple Gesture?

Karen notes that the drive team offers unique perks for a wide range of people. Families with kiddos can spend a Saturday morning together, teaching the little ones the importance of being a good neighbor. Teenagers, girl scout troops, and fraternities/sororities can use the drive time to log service hours.  

“It's almost like a treasure hunt!” David jokes, adding that it’s incredibly rewarding to see your vehicle crammed full of groceries and to actually see the places where the food is dropped off to serve your neighbors.  

Karen adds that the community of A Simple Gesture goes beyond the staff and food pantry partners. It’s not unusual for neighbors to recruit their neighbors, after having a conversation about why there is a green grocery bag on their porch. 

“It’s a community of people who believe in this,” she says. 

A woman loads grocery bags for A Simple Gesture High Point into her car trunk.

David and Karen work closely to make sure they have drivers every other month and food pantry partners who will take and distribute the collected items. Because, unlike a food pantry, A Simple Gesture doesn’t have a stockroom or warehouse. Instead, they work closely with those on the ground already doing the work of assessing the food needs in our community and supplying them with the resources to meet those needs.  

“We call our pantries our partners,” David explains. “It doesn’t do A Simple Gesture any good if we don’t have responsible people delivering it.”   

For the High Point chapter of A Simple Gesture, the organization ensures that all food donated in High Point stays in High Point. 

“All food collected in High Point stays in High Point,” Karen assures. “People appreciate the fact that they really are giving to their neighbors.”  

High Point partners that receive donations from A Simple Gesture:

  • West End Ministries
  • Open Door Ministries
  • Ward Street Mission
  • Burns Hill Community Food Pantry
  • BackPack Beginnings
  • First Christian Five Loaves, Two Fish Food Pantry
  • First UMC A Shared Blessing Food Pantry
  • Drawers of Hope
  • Greater First United Baptist. 
Karen Brudnak - Outreach Coordinator for High Point stands in the West End Ministries food pantry.
Karen Brudnak - Outreach Coordinator for High Point

Additionally, A Simple Gesture works with food pantries located at pediatrician and obstetrician offices in High Point, who screen mothers and parents for food insecurity, guaranteeing no patient who needs it leaves without food. Not to mention every school in Guilford County and all Head Start locations can have a food pantry largely supplied by the food donated through A Simple Gesture.  

“We're really trying to have food available in all the places where somebody might be when they're in that moment of realizing that there isn't anything at home,” Karen explains. 

And the benefits of A Simple Gesture working as a liaison between food donators and the community organizations that distribute food are endless. For example, community organizations know better than anyone what demographic they serve and what their specific needs are.  

Brad Bowers, Executive Director of West End Ministries, has been a partner of A Simple Gesture – High Point since its inception, over three years ago. In the course of a given week, West End Ministries’ food pantry will feed roughly 75 families a week, with an average of four people per family. In the last year alone, they have served nearly 4,000 individuals.  

Because of their deep and daily involvement in the community, West End Ministries is always on the lookout for what foods they need specifically. Brad recounts a time where the pantry was running low specifically on breakfast foods.  

“I was able to call David and Karen and say, ‘We are in desperate need of cereal this month,’” Brad explains. Then, the folks at A Simple Gesture could alert their donors via text and email to focus on breakfast cereals for their food donations.  

Brad says that without the donations of food from A Simple Gesture, West End wouldn’t be able to do what they do on the scale that they do it. He refers back specifically to a senior citizens’ meal West End hosted, where he noticed one elderly woman taking several plates of food with her as she left. 

David Lees hands a grocery bag of food to Brad Bowers, Executive Director at A Simple Gesture.
David Lees and Brad Bowers, Executive Director of West End Ministries.

“She came up and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now I have something to eat for the next few days... All I’ve got is soup and graham crackers at home,’” Brad recalls. Immediately, Brad got his team busy putting together several boxes of food from their food pantry to send home with the woman. She learned about the West End Ministries food pantry and was able to secure food regularly.  

“Without the food we get from A Simple Gesture, we would not be able to help people like her,” Brad says.  

Additionally, thanks to the work of the Greater High Point Food Alliance, there is open communication between all food security agencies in High Point – meaning if one organization needs a little more help during the month, the agencies can shuffle donations between locations.  

“Some pantries will call and say, ‘I've got 20 families coming this week and our shelves are bare,” Brad explains. "But West End can help them. I have a personal relationship with them, and I know they're going get the food in the hands of the people that really need it.”  

The food pantry at West End Ministries in High Point, NC.

“People almost feel guilty picking one pantry to support,” Karen adds. "They know there's good work at West End Ministries, they know there’s good work at Open Door Ministries, and more. When they choose to donate through us, they are funneling food to 10 different places.” 

Altogether, the partnerships between A Simple Gesture, their partner food pantries, and the service agencies in High Point guarantees that people who need support will receive it. West End Ministries alone partners with over 70 agencies in High Point to meet the needs of our neighbors. 

“The need is so much greater than what one agency can ever dream about doing by itself,” Brad notes. “So without partnering with great other great agencies, we can never meet the need out in the community.” 

A Simple Gesture6_120921

And this kind of partnership is exactly what is mirrored at A Simple Gesture. Ending food insecurity in our city isn’t something one person can fix, but it is something that can be drastically changed when everyone takes a simple step.  

“It's an organization that was based on such a grassroots movement,” Karen says. “They believed we can fix this problem. Or if we can't fix it, we can make it a whole lot better.”  

She notes that A Simple Gesture wants to leave that legacy in High Point – that we all as a community can take action and make simple gestures to change the story of our city.  

"It might not be perfect and we might not fix it completely,” she adds, “but we can do something about this.”  

“It's an organization that was based on such a grassroots movement. They believed we can fix this problem. Or if we can't fix it, we can make it a whole lot better.”  

Karen Brudnak, Outreach Coordinator for A Simple Gesture - High Point 

Discover our High Points, 

The HPD Team

Photography by Anna Danielle Photography