Let me tell you about Evelyn Browne.
We first met when she sought publicity for Its Spooky to be Hungry, the food drive Evelyn and a couple of friends started in their Columbia County subdivisions eight years ago.
People in my business have a low tolerance for self-promoting hucksters. We have to deal with such people all the time - folks who whine and beg for free coverage for some ostensibly charitable event, something that is for the children, when what they really want is free advertising, or for their organization to get undeserved pats on the back for all their noble efforts.
Unfortunately, that sometimes means we get jaded. It can make us a little thorny when folks seek publicity for a legitimate cause, and the media wind up treating them all like P.T. Barnum wanna-bes even if they dont deserve it.
So here comes Evelyn Browne, talking about a canned-food drive with a long name and all sorts of touchy-feely stuff about building the community by getting neighbors working together. The natural inclination was to roll up my pants legs and prepare to wade through more self-serving were-all-here-to-help-the-children-and-pad-our-resumes phoniness.
But something happened: I never found the phoniness. With quiet sincerity, Browne talked about the importance of ending not only the isolation we in suburbia have from those in our midst who dont get enough to eat, but of breaking the ice that freezes us out of our own neighborhoods.
It was a deceptively simple premise: Set up a canned food drive, neighborhood by neighborhood. Residents of each new neighborhood do the legwork themselves, walking door to door one Saturday morning in October, collecting food, non-perishable items and monetary donations for Golden Harvest Food Bank.
From those humble beginnings in just three Evans subdivisions, that deceptively simple idea took off - mostly because success breeds success, but also because of the sincerity of Evelyn Browne.
As a result, this Saturday, volunteers will fan out to more than 90 neighborhoods not just in Columbia County, but in Richmond and Aiken counties, too. Four schools and a hospital are collecting, and several businesses and churches are involved. And people who have worked with Spooky and have since moved away, or who otherwise heard about the drive, are starting their own Spooky drives in Greenwood, Columbia and Summerville, S.C.
Those volunteers will collect truckloads of food - nearly 17 tons last year, often one can of beans at a time - and gather thousands of dollars in donations. All because one woman and her friends practiced the gentle art of persuasion without a selfish or self-promoting bone in their bodies.
Its especially nice to know Dannon was impressed, too: As the yogurt company announced last week locally, and trumpted nationally yesterday, Brownes quiet efforts have earned her the grand prize in the Dannon Searches for Families Feeding America contest.
The award carries with it a $10,000 prize for Golden Harvest, and another $1,000 for Browne that shes donating to the food bank, too.
So will the national award make Browne a big star? Will it inflate her ego until she starts to look like just another snake-oil salesman?
Not likely. Shell be too busy helping with Spookys food drive Saturday morning, before rushing out to man a booth for Spooky at the Augusta Commons opening later that day.
Want to know what makes a great community? Its people like Evelyn Browne. And its so simple its Spooky.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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