For all the challenges newspapers continue to face, they still can serve as powerful tool to affect change, particularly at the local level.
In fact, the prickly climate afforded the staff at the Ada News in Oklahoma an opportunity to take a long look at their own role within the community and the ways in which they could improve upon it.
After a feature story about Abba’s Tables, a local nonprofit dedicated to feeding the hungry, was published by the News, it prompted the newspaper to reach out and offer a helping hand. To oversee the campaign, the paper formed a philanthropic board, consisting of the leadership team, members of the business community and anyone else who wanted to join.
“Our time is valuable and many times the thought of doing great things within our communities is far down on the list,” said publisher Amy Johns. “I decided it was time to move it to the top.”
By the middle of March, the News was already in the early stages of addressing the non-profit’s two greatest needs—volunteers and money.
Abba’s Tables provides evening meals during the week for people who would otherwise go hungry. However, the facility relies primarily on volunteers to both cook and serve meals. The annual costs for the organization total nearly $65,000.
According to Johns, some of the newspaper staff have recently volunteered and will continue their duties on a regular basis.
“I was nervous not knowing what to expect but once dinner approached, I could not quit smiling. You felt by the end of the night that you impacted someone’s life,” advertising director Maurisa Nelson said. “I can’t imagine what these people would have done for food if this charity didn’t exist. We get so caught up in our own lives we forget to help those that need it.”
The board plans on hosting a charitable giving financial seminar as well as a fundraising event pitting two local rival high school basketball teams against each other.
“We are also in the early stages of developing an outreach to businesses in the community that might participate in payroll deductions which will generate ongoing monthly revenue for Abba’s Tables,” Johns said. “Overall, the organization has already seen an increase of new volunteers which is great to hear.”
Though the paper originally intended to change the board and charitable organization every quarter, its members decided not to attach a timetable to any specific project, and instead, focus on the work at hand.
“That’s been the biggest lesson so far,” Nelson said. “We’re putting out a daily paper on top all of this and so we quickly realized that we can’t do the work we want to do if there’s a timeline to it.”