Bill Cilker has a long history with Second Harvest as both a former Board Member and a Finance Committee member. Sadly, he passed away on April 3, 2018. Bill has had a significant impact on Second Harvest and the community at large.

In this blog post, Cindy McCown, Vice President of Community Engagement and Policy and Second Harvest employee of over thirty years, and Mary Ellen Heising, Second Harvest’s former executive director, share their thoughts and memories of Bill Cilker.

What do you think Bill Cilker valued most in life?

Cindy McCown:
Family was extremely important to Bill, as was as leaving a legacy of philanthropy and giving back to his community. The Food Bank was a charity that he felt very strongly about supporting. He first came to work with the Food Bank during its very early years. There are multiple people who were long time donors of the Food Bank because of Bill’s efforts to raise awareness among his peers. Ensuring that others wanted a community where people were nourished was important to him.

Mary Ellen Heising:
Bill was a businessman with the mind of an engineer – among other things – so I think one of the things he valued about Second Harvest was that people could donate a certain amount of money to feed people in need, and the return in food value was many fold. In short, donating to Second Harvest was a good investment. Bill also loved our volunteer program, especially the low income individuals who came into the Food Bank, volunteered in the warehouse or with the newspaper project, and received a “thank you” bag full of food.

What are some of your favorite stories about Bill and the Food Bank?

Cindy McCown:
In the early days our facility was on Commercial Street, the old 7-Up bottling plant, and I know that Bill and the board members were really frustrated that we were having to pay rent. The building was falling apart and I remember some early conversations between Bill and some of the board members was that we needed to own our building and invest in the community. Bill having that bigger vision for the Food Bank was really important. We needed someone known in the community to help start opening doors that were otherwise closed to us.

When we were trying to pay for the Curtner facility, Bill really took it upon himself to raise the money. He would show up unannounced with people that he felt had the capability to give us a sizable gift and take them on a tour. Bill would beeline right to the warehouse and then right to the area where our partner agencies pick out their food and load it into their trucks. He would seek out the partner agency rep and ask, “What is your agency? What do you do? You like the services of the Food Bank?” As a staff member, sometimes you’re like, “Okay, I hope that this person will be able to answer some of these questions.” But he genuinely wanted to understand how diverse our partner agencies were and how diverse the individuals that they were serving.

Mary Ellen Heising:
One frequently repeated story was when we were trying to get a donation from [a wealthy community member]. He took her on a tour of the warehouse, we invited her to a French restaurant for lunch, he brought in other people from the San Jose Symphony (she was a big supporter), but nothing captured her interest.

Bill finally said he thought people like her, who lived a wealthy lifestyle and had supported the arts, just didn’t connect with programs like ours. But he didn’t give up. And the next time she came into Second Harvest, she had read a newspaper article about how people who were working still couldn’t afford to buy food! We got a check.

But that isn’t the end of the story. When she was quite elderly and primarily bed ridden, Bill visited her on a regular basis as a friend.

How did Bill impact your life?

Mary Ellen Heising:
In so many ways, and among them are if you’re going to do something do it well, in fact very well. Also, the value of teaching the next generation about the importance of philanthropy. And lastly, his acts of kindness to EVERYONE.

Cindy McCown:
It was a wonderful feeling knowing that someone who was successful in business wanted to invest in our shared vision. It was a time when the Food Bank clearly didn’t have the brand or reputation it has now. We were starting out. No one wanted to loan us money, but he was able to. He just fundamentally believed that people should have access to healthy food.

Personally, I had this huge respect for Bill. When he and his wife moved to the Terraces of Los Gatos, they realized that they needed a slower kind of lifestyle. It was cute how he would call up out of the blue because he read an article, wanting to get my take on something. He’d read something about the Food Bank in the media and he’s ask, “Cindy, is this really the case?” Or, “What’s going on with these reports that I read?” I really liked the fact that he was so connected to Second Harvest and monitoring what was going on in our world, even from “afar.”

***Read Bill Cilker’s obituary in the San Jose Mercury News.