She can dole out statistics about hunger if you want, but Peggy Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri, knows sharing stories of the people helped by her organization is more effective when trying to get others to understand the need.
“I can give you facts and figures about hunger and poverty,” she said. “But I don’t want you to see facts and figures. I want you to see faces.”
And that’s just what students in Contemporary Issues in Strategic Communications saw this morning when Kirkpatrick shared some stories from her work. She was among a series of guest speakers in the class this semester who have exposed students to new types of marketing techniques and strategies.
Kirkpatrick started by telling her own story. She worked at the University of Missouri before joining the food bank and recalled seeing homeless people in the alleyways between her building and where she parked.
“For 7 ½ years I looked at that, and looked away and kept walking,” she said. “I prayed God would do something or send someone.”
That’s when she heard a voice in her head telling her she could do something. Two months later, she got a job at the food bank.
That was 1992 and she’s been hearing—and retelling—stories of desperate families, out-of-work parents and hungry children since. Today, she told students several of those stories, including a story about a girl who didn’t want to go on spring break because she knew she’d be hungry; a boy who rationed food from his food-bank provided Buddy Pack; a dad who just needed to feed his family until he got his first paycheck after being laid off.
Telling those stories is vitally important to the food bank, Kirkpatrick said. One of them—a story about an 8-year-old boy who was sharing his Buddy Pack meals with his siblings after their mom deserted them—even went viral.
“We got donations from all over the country and a naval base in Japan,” she said.
Asked for her definition of storytelling, Kirkpatrick said one has to speak with conviction. “Take a true occasion,” she said, “and speak about it from the heart.