Today’s Courier Herald Column:
I grew up in south metro Atlanta. So did the Chick Fil A Chain. The original Dwarf House is a bit more than 20 years older than I am, but the first mall based Chick Fil A store was opened just two years before I was born. Thus, the chain as we know it and myself are roughly the same age. As such, I’ve managed to watch the chain grow up, and have had direct interactions with the Cathy family.
I’ve met Truett Cathy on several occasions. I was honored to have him speak to my small country church’s youth group when I was a teenager. We had a lengthy one on one conversation afterward, and then he gave me his business card and asked me to call him anytime I needed him. I never did, but almost 30 years later I still have that card.
Dan Cathy was a regular customer of my family’s hardware store in Fayetteville. I remember helping him design and build a couple of Pinewood Derby cars with his Cub Scout sons one Saturday afternoon. He kept returning to the store every few hours, announcing the progress, asking for additional instructions and re-checking what I had told him from when I had built my own. He’s a hands on dad like his is a hands on businessman.
Dan liked our store enough that he used my father in one of Chick Fil A’s earliest training videos. Dad was held up as an example of how to be a good member of the business community by offering excellent customer service and trying to meet any customer’s request. We were honored by that inclusion.
My mother worked for a large non-profit that Truett served on the board. He wasn’t there to pad a resume or earn points for civic or humanitarian awards. He was the kind of guy who rolled up his sleeves and tried to make sure the place was fulfilling its mission.
Truett was big into charities that shaped children’s’ lives. He didn’t just write checks, but was and remains an active part of this ministry. When he came to speak to our youth group he brought one of the foster kids that he had adopted if my memory serves. He also spoke on what the Cathy family and God had meant in his life. The charity that mom and he worked together on had a children’s’ home, and Truett was very active with that part of it.
Eventually he expanded his charitable giving and his foundation. Now the WinShape Foundation, the Cathy family has continued to focus most of their giving on things like WinShape homes, foster children, and Berry College in Rome Georgia. WinShape continues to underwrite roughly a dozen long term foster homes for children.
It is amazing the amount of charity that has grown out of a business that was one restaurant across from a Ford plant and one cubby hole in Greenbriar Mall when I was born. The business is now nationwide, and the charitable efforts have grown with it. All the while, the Cathy family has stood firm to the principles that Truett discussed to my small church group back in the mid-eighties. If ever there was a man who walked his talk it is Truett Cathy.
Today, our modern climate doesn’t always take well to that. It’s been a somewhat disheartening week, as some have chosen to use the Cathy family’s abundant generosity to forward their own agenda, and call their gifts “hate”. I have watched their actions and seen the direct result on people’s lives for over four decades. The charitable donations are the antithesis of hate. The Cathy’s love their neighbors. All of them.
The planned day to boycott Chick Fil A didn’t exactly go as planned. Lines wrapped around stores and cars blocked traffic in an effort to show appreciation to the Cathy family for standing firm for their Christian beliefs. Yet the comments by some seemed to miss the point. Chick Fil A’s mission statement has never wavered. The company believes in treating all employees and customers with respect. This includes those who believe the family and the chain are filled with hate.
For those who have lashed out at those who wished to boycott the chain, it is time to remember there is more to the Bible than several passages in Leviticus. There are other passages about loving thy neighbor. There’s also one about turning the other cheek.