Hal Donaldson’s inspiring nonprofit, Convoy of Hope, feeds millions of people around the world.
Posted in , Aug 5, 2021
In 1990, Hal Donaldson was 23 years old, fresh out of college and found himself in Calcutta, India, where he was ghost writing a book for a couple feeding hungry children. They told him there was someone they wanted him to interview. A friend who was helping them in their endeavors. It was Mother Teresa.
“She was so humble,” Donaldson says about the Roman Catholic saint famed for feeding the hungry in India. “She wasn’t wearing shoes and her ankles were swollen. She sat down with me and was very polite.”
After their interview, Mother Teresa had a question for him: “What are you doing to help the poor?” Says Donaldson: “It wasn’t accusative. She was just asking me a simple and fair question.” He told her the truth. He was young and had just gotten his degree in journalism. He wasn’t focused on helping others. With a smile on her face, Mother Teresa said, “Everyone can do something.”
Those words struck a deep chord with Donaldson. They forced him to face some hard truths about himself.
Donaldson grew up in the San Francisco Bay-area. When he was 12 years old, his parents were hit by a drunk driver; his father died, and his mother was seriously injured. To make ends meet, they went on welfare. “I experienced the shame of poverty,” Donaldson says. “I had holes in my shoes and clothes. When you’re teased in school for being poor or walking into supermarkets with food stamps, you feel less than. And you just try to escape that.”
He managed to do just that. Donaldson got into college, earned a degree, and turned his focus to making money for himself. “I went through a period where I was self-centered,” he said. “I was just trying to claw my way out of insignificance. The problem is, in trying to escape that life, it’s easy to neglect others along the way. I was the guy that would see a homeless person and cross the street, so I didn’t have to confront him. My focus was on climbing to the top instead of helping those trying to climb with me.”
Donaldson returned home from India with a changed perspective. He knew he needed to do something to help his fellow man. But what? That’s when he says God gave him an idea. He packed up his car and hit the road. He traveled to eight cities in America and stayed on the streets for three nights in each of them. He spent that time talking with the people he encountered. People who were homeless, people who had turned to prostitution, those struggling with addiction. He listened to their stories. “My heart broke,” he says. “I knew I could no longer just live for myself.”
Inspired by Mother Teresa’s words and the stories he’d heard across America, Donaldson loaded a pick-up truck with $300 worth of groceries. He drove around Northern California handing them out to anyone who looked like they needed help. As word got around about his endeavors, his operation grew bigger. “It grew from a pick-up truck to a box truck to a semi-truck to warehouses,” he said. In 1994, Donaldson created the nonprofit organization, Convoy for Hope.
Today, Convoy of Hope works with communities across America and around the world—from India to South Africa, Bulgaria to Nicaragua. Their work focuses on feeding children, women’s empowerment, helping farmers and disaster services. The organization’s work has been vital during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We’d set a goal of delivering 10 million meals,” Donaldson says. “We were really astonished by the response. We passed that goal in a matter of weeks. As of now, we’ve passed out 200 million meals.”
Donaldson says the response from people helped by Convoy of Hope is powerful. “People said we’ve shown them there was still good,” he says. “That we’ve given them hope.” But perhaps even more profound was the response from people who joined their operation, driven by their need to help others. “People said they didn’t know what to do, but then they heard about us,” Donaldson says. “We underestimate what we can accomplish. I experienced poverty but I experienced kindness. It can transform lives. God wants to help the poor and He’s looking for people who are willing.”
To learn more about Hal Donaldson’s story, check out his two latest books: Disruptive Compassion: Becoming the Revolutionary You Were Born to Be and Your Next 24 Hours: One Day of Kindness Can Change Everything.