Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

St. Vincent de Paul Georgia recently honored three people with “Hope in Action” awards, including (l-r) public policy professional Myrtle Davis; founder of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Bill Bolling; and FOX 5 Atlanta news anchor, Russ Spencer. John Berry, right, is the chief executive officer of SVdP Georgia.


Bill Bolling, Myrtle Davis, Russ Spencer receive SVdP ‘Hope in Action’ awards

By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published November 26, 2015

ATLANTA—The 2015 Hope in Action honorees of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia have used their hearts, minds and hands to serve the poor and support the organization’s work.

The Evening for Hope gala, held Oct. 17 at the Renaissance Waverly Atlanta hotel, began with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. A festive evening of dinner and dancing and awards presentations followed.

The honorees were Bill Bolling, retired founder of the Atlanta Community Food Bank; Russ Spencer, news anchor at FOX 5 News Atlanta; and Myrtle Davis, independent public policy professional.

In 2014, SVdP Georgia hosted the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s National Assembly. The assembly introduced the theme of “Hope in Action: The Heart, The Hands, and the Head” to highlight the scope of efforts to alleviate poverty and help others achieve stability.

John Berry, chief executive officer of SVdP Georgia, said the Hope in Action awards, inaugurated this year, were an important follow up.

“The heart is the spiritual and God-given motivation and strength that allows us to do the work we do,” explained Berry. “The hands … the work itself; the laborers in the fields serving our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need. The head is the acknowledgement and the challenge that what we do must be rooted not only in a desire to provide charity but also in a desire to change people’s lives through programs, services and advocacy.”

Berry said the work of the honorees is an example of how to change lives by being determined to make a difference.

“Each of the award recipients has demonstrated, through their lifetime of service and action, a commitment to being Hope in Action in all three ways,” said Berry.

He highlighted Davis’ work in civic and political arenas to bring change and equal opportunity to all; Bolling’s vision and passion to feed the hungry and use food as a transformational tool; and Spencer’s giving up of a career to teach in a poor country and use of talent to help organizations accomplish goals.

“These three people are what Hope in Action is all about,” he said.

Myrtle Davis

Davis, a former board member of SVdP Georgia, called it an honor to be chosen.

She is a former Atlanta City Council member and past-president of the Georgia Municipal Association. A longtime member of St. Paul of the Cross Church in Atlanta, Davis also attends Mass regularly at the Cathedral of Christ the King. She supported SVdP conference work at the parish level many years ago.

“I’ve been an advocate for SVdP all along. It really was a fantastic board to serve on,” she said.

A board member for three years, Davis stepped down for health reasons.

A pharmacist by training, Davis attended Xavier University in New Orleans, moving to Atlanta in 1956 where she married activist and physician, Dr. Albert Davis.

Throughout the 1960s, Davis served on the boards of several community-based organizations and was co-executive director of Leadership Atlanta for 10 years. She was elected to the city council in 1981, serving as chair of many committees, including water and pollution and community development. She retired from Atlanta city government as water utility manager in 1998.

“Retirement is an oxymoron anyway,” said Davis. She resides in a senior living community and finds herself practicing little acts of mercy and kindness for those who are worse off.

“There’s so much to do. It never goes away,” she said.

Faith and family background both served as underlying reasons for her own community involvement, said Davis.

“I had a fairly good role model in the person of my mother. She managed to give time to other things that were important to her,” she said.

Davis’ mother was a teacher in rural South Carolina, and her father a postal worker.

Davis enjoys spending time with her daughters, Judge Stephanie C. Davis, a Fulton County Magistrate Court judge, and Stacey Davis Stewart, U.S. president of United Way Worldwide, as well as her granddaughters, ages 10 and 12.

While Davis emphasized SVdP’s continued presence in the inner city, she also praised its growth and food distribution in all corners of Georgia.

“I love the energy of St. Vincent de Paul. The mission has been expanded so much,” she said.

And it’s not just about giving fish, but “teaching how to fish” to be self-sufficient, she noted.

“There’s some value in that,” said Davis.

Russ Spencer

Spencer, anchor of the evening newscasts on FOX 5 Atlanta, was “humbled to be honored by St. Vincent de Paul,” and emphasized instead the contributions of the many parish conference level volunteers who have spent decades serving the poor.

Spencer, a parishioner of St. Brigid Church in Johns Creek, was involved in the establishment of the conference at the church many years ago.

He has worked in broadcast journalism since 1983 and also lends his time and talent to serve as emcee for St. Vincent de Paul galas and events. He has also volunteered to be emcee for the annual archdiocesan Eucharistic Congress for many years.

In the late 1980s, Spencer took a break from his television career to teach school and work as a freelance journalist in Central America, where he reported on the historic vote overthrowing the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1990.

A winner of 13 regional Emmy awards during his time in Atlanta, Spencer also earned an Edward R. Murrow Award for coverage of Georgia flooding.

A graduate of Princeton University, Spencer and his family reside in Johns Creek.

Bill Bolling

Bolling founded the Atlanta Community Food Bank in 1979, serving as its executive director for 36 years until retiring from that post in June.

“That didn’t work out,” said Bolling about retirement in general. “I’m just as busy as ever.”

During the last three years at the Food Bank program, Bolling helped transition its new director Kyle Waide into the leadership role.

“We knew him well. I’m still around to be supportive,” explained Bolling.

In the capacity of director, Bolling oversaw distribution of millions of pounds of good but unmarketable food and grocery products through a network of 600 nonprofit partners.

A frequent speaker on poverty, hunger, affordable housing, and public policy reform, Bolling also continues to work with the Georgia Food Bank Association and the Food Well Alliance.

The Food Well Alliance supports the locally grown food movement, including providing grants to growers, gardens and educators.

Bolling said there are more than 300 community gardens in metro Atlanta and 90 urban farms. The new alliance works to promote greater access to locally grown, healthier foods while providing urban residents places to connect with nature.

The alliance is “really representing that whole movement,” said Bolling. “It really didn’t have a center. That’s very exciting.”
Bolling said it’s empowering for people to learn about growing food, which was a component of the community Food Bank.

“This is taking that work to a different level,” he said of the Food Well Alliance. “When there’s a garden, you can change the dynamic of a whole neighborhood.”

It’s also nice to see young people involved in the locally grown movement and helping to prevent food insecurity.

“It really complements the work of the Food Bank,” said Bolling.

He noted that St. Vincent de Paul Georgia has always been a “key partner” of the Food Bank.

“We go back all these years,” said Bolling. “We have a great history. In today’s environment we need each other more than ever.”

The organizations learn from one another and share a vision for leading people in need to success.

When Bolling and his wife, Haqiqa, a middle school counselor, first moved to Atlanta, they formed an interfaith community to be of service in an informal way.

In 1979, he began operating and cooking for the community kitchen at St. Luke Episcopal Church in Atlanta, which eventually led to forming the Atlanta Community Food Bank. St. Luke remains his church home.

“I began finding out I liked to cook food,” he recalled.

His faith, upbringing in North Carolina, and learning from others along the way spurred him on in the work.

“I had grown up in a small town. My grandfather grew food and gave it away,” he said.

Bolling remarked that Jesus probably sat down to eat with strangers more than any other thing in his ministry.

“I didn’t know that was what it was going to grow into,” he said about his beginnings at the kitchen. “It really comes down to just being faithful.”

The Bollings have two grown children, one recently married and the other set to be married this year.

“We’ve been so blessed,” he said.

According to Bolling, being with and listening to other people is what it’s all about.

“It’s the most important thing,” he said.