How Tragedy Brought Our Community Together to Stop Hunger

It was nearly Thanksgiving in November 1969. As families were preparing for their annual feast, Kentuckiana was rocked to its core. Nine-year-old Bobby Ellis was found dead. The cause? Malnutrition. Community leaders and residents were shocked that this could happen in our community.

Brian Riendeau, Executive Director, at Dare to Care Food Bank, said, “Faith leaders from around the community responded to Bobby’s death by challenging our community to do better.” But first they had to find out what exactly happened. Riendeau recalls, “A year before he died, at the urging of school officials, Bobby and one of his sisters were hospitalized for malnutrition. But shortly after that, they were returned home. Processes began to remove the children from the home, but they were often delayed and before they could conclude, Bobby died.” The community recognized that it had failed Bobby, but it also knew that such a tragic story could never be repeated.

That’s when the Dare to Care movement began. Protests and vigils took place but that wasn’t enough. “The pastor of St. John Catholic Church offered to use his basement to store food collected from food drives,” Riendeau says. “Volunteers sorted and boxed the donated food and then, using the pastor’s pickup, delivered the boxes to food pantries around town where families like the Ellis’s could come to get help.” Riendeau says that as the program grew, the volunteers gave a name to their work, paying homage to the community’s original rallying cry, and the Dare to Care Food Bank was born.

Since those early days, Dare to Care has changed quite a bit, but much has also stayed the same. Acknowledging that challenges Bobby’s family faced were not unique, the food bank has expanded to meet the needs of all of Kentuckiana’s residents. Riendeau says that last year alone, Dare to Care distributed enough food for nearly 20 million meals. And what started out as just a handful of partner pantries has expanded into a strong network of more than 200 partners serving every ZIP code.

In an effort to get meals where they’re most needed, Dare to Care operates special programming.  An example is the Dare to Care Community Kitchen in partnership with the Lift a Life Foundation.  The Community Kitchen produces and delivers more than 1,500 meals each weekday to 35 Kids Cafes. “Those Kids Cafes, located in after school programs around the community, serve hot and balanced meals to children like Bobby Ellis,” Riendeau says. But hunger isn’t just limited to weekdays. That’s why the Dare to Care Backpack Buddy program provides weekend nutrition, including fresh fruit, to elementary school students with the biggest risk of hunger.

Bobby Ellis’s death was a tragedy, but it wasn’t in vain. It motivated a community to take action. “We are inspired by the way those in the past took responsibility for Bobby’s tragedy and then acted with courage and vigor to protect future generations from experiencing the same deprivation,” Riendeau says.

If you’d like to honor the young boy’s legacy, you can do so by attending the Bobby Ellis Memorial Vigil at the Louisville Urban League on Sunday, November 19. At 5 p.m., community members will walk together and honor his memory.

To find out more about how Dare to Care keep’s Bobby’s memory alive today, visit