By Maria Saporta
Atlanta’s shining lights have been gracing our city streets since 1963, and today, we added a new shining light to our city — Bill Bolling.
Bill Bolling, founder and executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, was honored this morning at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church — site of where Bolling started his career feeding the hungry and empowering those in need.
The Atlanta Gas Light Co. and WSB-Radio News/Talk 750 co-sponsor the Shining Light Award nearly every year. An actual gas light with an eternal flame is erected in that person’s honor at a site of his or her choosing.
Bolling picked a spot on Peachtree Street, just in front of St. Luke’s for his gas lamp.
Describing himself as someone who moves “between the worlds of the rich and the poor,” Bolling said he often works “outside his comfort zone.” And he laughingly said that being honored in front of so many of friends and mentors was outside his comfort zone.
Members of the business, philanthropic and faith communities spoke about the impact Bolling has had on Atlanta.
John Stephenson, executive director of the J. Bulow Campbell Foundation, described Bolling as turning youthful idealism into action. “He became the hippie food guy,” Stephenson said of Bolling’s founding of the food bank 30 years ago. “Our hippie food guy has done well, and thank God almighty you came our way.”
Imam Plemon El-Amin, resident Imam for the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam and past chair of the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta, said Bolling’s work has been like a preacher in the community, engaging people and getting them to work with each other.
“He puts us at the table and give us an opportunity to dialogue,” El-Amin said. “It’s not…about alleviating hunger, but promoting health and well-being. He wants people in the community to be healthy. It’s not about scarcity. It’s about abundance.”
Jim Rhoden, president of the Futren Corp., said he got to know Bolling by working on regional issues and building regional ties.
“We are poles apart on many issues,” said Rhoden, who describes himself as a conservative Republican. “But as time goes by, our differences mean less and less.”
Bolling said he was deeply touched by receiving the Shining Light Award, one of the most prestigious recognitions given in Atlanta. Past honorees include former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, former President Jimmy Carter, the late Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. and the late Mayor Maynard Jackson, baseball legend Hank Aaron, Home Depot’s Bernie Marcus, the late columnist Celestine Sibley, and the late Robert W. Woodruff, who led the Coca-Cola Co. for decades.
Bolling urged everyone in attendance to reach out and help the future shining lights of Atlanta, just as people had reached out to help him three decades ago.
“I want to be remembered for having been faithful to my calling,” Bolling said, thanking everyone for helping him “fulfill my life’s work.”
Note to Readers: Journalists are supposed to be relatively objective. As someone who has a column, I can share my thoughts and analysis in my writings. So in all honesty, let me say that there’s no way I can be objective when I write about Bill Bolling. I met Bill through my father, who became a partner in social justice while working on the Housing Forum decades ago. My father and my mother later adopted Bill like a son, making him part of our family. Bill, who stood by me and my sister through the illnesses and eventual death of my parents, has become the brother I never had. But what’s so telling about Bill is that he has touched so many people in similar ways during his travels along the way.