David Gerson drives an aging Volvo station wagon with a coffee stain on the passenger seat --hardly the type of car usually driven by successful corporate tax lawyers who negotiate billion-dollar mergers in Silicon Valley. David, 62, however, is what some might call a reformed lawyer.
That 25-year law career never quite fulfilled him, so in 2011 he took a job feeding the poor.
As the executive director of Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa, a nonprofit that operates five East Bay dining rooms, David has steered the organization that had been struggling with reduced funding and increased demand, toward greater stability.
Beyond that, his fresh perspective, born of years as a corporate shark for high tech companies, has led to a strategic shift toward forming partnerships with other nonprofit, faith-based, and government organizations.
Increasingly, however, Loaves and Fishes is using its dining rooms to host organizations that offer services ranging from health care and job training to transitional and permanent housing for homeless veterans. David says that the people who come to the dining rooms for meals often have no access to health care, need training in order to find jobs that pay a livable wage, and are, in some cases, homeless or in need of mental health services. It was a natural step to efficiently connect them with available services.
This integrated services approach isn’t widely used in the suburban county of Contra Costa, and the effort is meeting broad support, adding fuel to Loaves and Fishes’ growth.
David’s desire to act as a positive force for change speaks to an infectious optimism he traces to his childhood. “I came of age in the Sixties,” he says with a smile. “I’ve always felt, from those years, a broader sense of community. It felt empowering to be part of a larger whole and to treat everyone as an equal and provide opportunities to everyone.”
Even during his years as a lawyer, David volunteered in his community. He was on the board of Shelter Inc., a nonprofit focused on ending homelessness in Contra Costa County and a current partner of Loaves and Fishes. (He’s quick to add that his former partners were good people and always contributed generously to community causes.)
“The hardest challenge for me (today) is going out to our dining rooms and seeing people who were living in poverty, and then every evening driving back over the hill into Lafayette,” he says of the disparity between his affluent neighborhood and the problems so close at hand.
But he has the right to be content, knowing he is a big part of the solution. So, each morning David climbs into his trusty Volvo and heads out to feed the hungry, and he feeds his soul at the same time.
ContactLoaves and Fishes of Contra Costa to donate food or money, as well as volunteer. Also check their schedule for an April poker tournament and June garden party and follow them on Facebook.