It was August 1984. Exhausted from running Gary Hart' presidential campaign, Bill Shore was leafing through a newspaper when an article stopped him short. The headline read: "As Many as 200,000 to Die of Starvation in Ethiopia."
He suddenly felt a keen sense of outrage, which, in turn, filled him with unexpected inspiration.
"I remember thinking that I was thinking on my own. That I was feeling something again," recalls Mr. Shore. "When you work for a senator for a number of years, you condition yourself to think about what the senator's position would be on different things. I remember having this great, refreshing feeling that this is my own sense of outrage."
That summer, Share Our Strength was born from Mr. Shore's notion that it was sensible to connect those with the most food -- the people in the restaurant industry -- to those with the least.
Using organizing skills gained from years of working for a senator, Mr. Hart of Colorado, Mr. Shore helped mold various sections of the restaurant industry into a powerful national force for the hungry and homeless.
Taste of the Nation, SOS's largest annual fund-raiser, invites chefs to participate in benefit food and wine tastings. Last month, 5,000 chefs in more than 100 cities raised $3.5 million for the hungry and the homeless. (Baltimore's recent fund-raiser, held at Camden Yards, raised about $38,000 -- double the 1992 amount.)
"When you take a group of people and say, 'Do what you're best at, in your own way, and we'll convert that into dollars and food for hungry people,' they get very excited about it. They really work at it," Mr. Shore says.
In just nine years, Share Our Strength has become one of the largest private hunger relief organizations in the United States. Last year, it distributed more than $3 million to domestic and international programs, ranging from food banks in Idaho to emergency relief in Somalia. In Maryland, the organization gave $16,550 for programs at the Maryland Food Bank, the Salvation Army and Food Link in Annapolis.
Share Our Strength is also building a reputation as one of the nation's most creative nonprofits as it pioneers new methods of fund-raising; it receives no government money.
Mr. Shore has persuaded some of the nation's best-known fiction writers -- including Anne Tyler, Jane Smiley and Michael Dorris -- to write short stories for the group's fund-raising anthologies, "Louder Than Words" and "Voices Louder Than Words." A children's anthology, "Home," offers new works by well-known authors and illustrators. "Mysteries of Life and the Universe," a fund-raising anthology of essays from leading science writers, has also won critical praise.
Last fall, SOS's first national reading to relieve hunger raised $43,000 in one day. Thousands of listeners paid $5 each to hear Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Terkel, Philip Roth, William P. Kennedy and other writers read at colleges and bookstores across the nation.
"SOS is a model of what government is supposed to do," says novelist Frederick Busch, a supporter of the group who originated the idea for the national reading. "It's about enlightened self-interest. What is staggering to me is that it's such an impeccably intelligent use of resources."
And it's all based on heart.
"Billy Shore does not see a poor, a hungry, a homeless person as a political issue. Or as a problem to be solved with an academic analysis -- as far too many people do. To Billy, homeless people have names," says Sen. Bob Kerrey, who hired Mr. Shore to be his chief of staff.
The new breed
Mr. Shore, 38, has become one of the leaders of a new breed of public service entrepreneurs, a group that includes Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, which draws top college graduates to teach in public schools, and Alan Khazei and Michael Brown, founders of City Year, which is described as an urban Peace Corps.
As he talks about his work, Mr. Shore gives impressions of both intense concentration and nervous energy, answering questions thoughtfully and concisely while shifting in his seat, crossing and uncrossing his legs. A piece of yellow legal paper with the day's agenda sits in his shirt pocket like a road map, reminding him of the distance left to travel.
"Billy's always working," says Mr. Busch. "While he is working with me on a problem on the phone, he is also working on two other matters. He has several watertight compartments in his brain, so if one part gets flooded with the need for attention to the public side of his work, the other part can remain privately working on whatever. . . . He's a brilliantly tuned, made-in-America engine that is always idling."
His younger sister, Debbie Shore, associate director of SOS, says he is superb at condensing piles of information -- "He can read any article and spit it out" -- and is extremely productive. Until last year, he ran Share Our Strength as well as handling a full-time political job.