The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region honored an organization responsible for feeding over 11,000 children daily as well as combating racial inequality in the District.
The 2017 annual Celebration of Philanthropy recognized Martha’s Table and its volunteer CEO Patty Stonesifer on Monday, March 20, at Arena Stage in Southwest for the Civic Spirit Award.
Dr. Johnetta Cole, director of the National Museum of African Art and friend to Stonesifer, made the case as to why the organization and Stonesifer deserved such a distinguished honor.
“I cannot tell you what an honor it is for me to introduce my she-ro, my sister-friend who as you know so brilliantly leads Martha’s Table,” Cole said of Stonesifer, who previously served as the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and chaired the board of regents at the Smithsonian.
“On this particular night in Women’s History — and ‘her-story’ — Month, we celebrate philanthropy,” Cole said. “Philanthropy — that’s a mighty big word, but it simply means doing for others is the rent you have to pay for your room on earth.”
Cole said that in 1979, Martha’s Table began as a partnership for something as basic as a safe space for children to eat and read after school. Today that partnership has expanded to health and emergency needs through education and family support services.
“Martha’s Table is a a response to an outrageous reality,” she said. “In the richest country in the world there are women, men and children who suffer from food insecurity. This is not just a national issue, but in D.C., 31,000 children do not know how they will get their next meal.”
Martha’s Table attempts to combat that by providing dinner every night in four locations throughout the District.
“I declare that if Martha’s Table didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent it,” Cole said.
Stonesifer said that after four years of leading the organization, she knows the work isn’t done without the help of partners such as Capital Area Food Bank and 18,000 volunteers.
“We couldn’t do this work without the help of our partners,” she said. “We can’t do it alone we have to do it together.”
Stonesifer challenged the room filled with contributors, donors and members of the business community to not only be charitable to the people who need it most, but to recognize their privilege.
“I’ve had the privilege of growing up white in America,” she said. “The advantage that I shared with my three predecessors at Martha’s Table was the color of my skin. A bold boost of white privilege.
“Why in the midst of a celebration like this do we need to dwell on the complexities of race and privilege, especially in a room like this where so many of the people are committed to doing good work?” she said. “Because this is the Civic Spirit Award and if you want to fully embrace the duties of being a great citizen at this critical time in our country, and our region, I invite you as donors and leaders, to join me and join Martha’s Table in advancing racial equity.”
Stonesifer asked for the mainly white attendees to acknowledge that their place in life has been affected by privilege.
“In the past perhaps we were unaware or, if we are being 100 percent truthful, uninterested in the hard work of creating greater equity,” she said. “This is the journey we are on at Martha’s Table to hold ourselves accountable to not just be a great social service organization but to be an anti-racism organization.”