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Matt Damon, portraying a Minnetonka man, puts a real face on hunger

Matt Damon portrays Minnetonka resident Steve Gallagher in a new PSA.
Feeding America
Matt Damon portrays Minnetonka resident Steve Gallagher in a new PSA.

One of these nights, in the wee hours when local television broadcasters can fit it into their scheduling, you may see Academy Award winner Matt Damon in a 31-second public service announcement playing a real and jobless Minnetonka man not too proud to admit he and his family use their local food shelf.

That symbolic everyman is Steve Gallagher, married, the father of two girls, and, along with his wife, jobless for two years. 

“I’m the face of middle-America, the middle class who is now down to poverty. I’m looking for work. I’m applying for 50 to 100 jobs a week and not getting any bites,” said Gallagher, who was laid off from a job in shipping and receiving with a small medical company that was sold off in parts in 2008.

Pictured at the front door of a house in Queens, N. Y., and dressed in a billed cap, white t-shirt and cloth jacket, Damon starts out saying, “Hi, my name is Steve. Recently things got so tight we had to go to our local food bank for help.”

Damon says a few more lines, then turns to Gallagher off-camera, saying: “How’d I do, Steve?”

Gallagher, dressed just as Damon, ambles into camera range. Their exchange ends with a touch of humor before a serious masculine voice encourages Americans to “Play a role in ending hunger. Visit and find your local food bank.” Translation: donate.

You can also see the full ad below.

The PSA, a collaboration of Feeding America, a hunger relief organization, and the nonprofit Ad Council, is aimed at motivating Americans to get involved in the fight against hunger, done pro-bono by Cutwater Advertising, a San Francisco agency. Broadcasters donate on-air time to show it. Ben Affleck stars in another one of the “everyman” series of promotions distributed to media channels and online.

Stereotype of the past
The goal is to put a real face on hunger, explains Heidi Arthur, senior vice president at the Ad Council.

“The whole strategy of the campaign is to make people aware it is not the stereotype of hunger of the past. It’s hard-working people in the community, it’s children, it’s the working poor. The whole idea is that this is closer than you think. It’s 1 in 6 Americans,” Arthur said.

Fame knocked on his door when Gallagher was visiting ICA Foodshelf, the Minnetonka food bank he and his family sometimes use. “They were looking for someone to tell their story. I was willing to tell my story. As long as it helps one person, it’s fine.” The family has utilized other community resources, including receiving toys and warm winter wear.

Gallagher receives unemployment insurance, but “I’m probably on my last leg of it right now,” he said. The family is “barely” holding on to their home. 

When they were both working — his wife, Treva, was laid off from a job as a preschool teacher in a daycare setting—the Gallaghers used to pull in between $48,000 and $60,000 with benefits.

“Now it’s down to about $15,000,” he said, acknowledging that for most jobs he’s “overqualified and yet under-educated.” He has some college but not a degree, yet years of fundraising experience as a volunteer for Hopkins’ Raspberry Festival.

Yet, even fundraising jobs he can’t get, absent that college degree. “C’mon, you don’t need a four-year degree to get money from people. You’ve either got the knack or you don’t have the knack,” he insists. 

It took courage to walk into their local food shelf to ask for food that first time, he said, admitting to overcoming the “stigma” of asking for help.

Since, the family visits the food bank regularly for ” milk and lots of canned stuff and little bits of meat,” though his children’s food allergies and his wife’s diabetes sometimes means they can’t use all the food offered.

“It takes a lot to admit you need help,” Gallagher said.

Already, his five minutes of fame has led to his being flown to New York City to do the piece with Damon. Daughter Katie, 15, makes a cameo appearance in a related PSA with teen actress Abigail Breslin, but it hasn’t been released yet. Daughter, Olivia, is 10. There’s also talk of the family being interviewed on CBS.

Often, Gallagher is disheartened. “With a guy like me with thousands of connections, I can’t find work. I can’t find work to support my family,” he says, still finding that fact unbelievable. 

Yet there are sunny spots in his life. Sometimes the family comes home to find a grocery store gift certificate stuck on the door by an anonymous donor. They’re doing for him, Gallagher says, what he used to do for others.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 12/10/2010 - 10:45 am.

    There are no or very few food shelves in the U.K., they never needed them until now. I applaud Steve for his courage. Thank you for this story, you are a great asset to Minnpost.

  2. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 12/10/2010 - 11:56 am.

    Umm…so they tell a real-life Minnesota story but filmed it in New York? Why? Is Steve’s Minnetonka neighborhood not gritty enough for this message?

  3. Submitted by Deborah Irestone on 12/10/2010 - 12:02 pm.

    Ms Boyd,
    Great article! I sincerely hope the Gallagher’s have a Happy Holidays and I hope Mr or Mrs Gallagher finds work in the new year. As for the rest of us, I think we need to send a check to our local food shelves if we have the ability. No matter how small, ever little bit helps.

  4. Submitted by bea sinna on 12/10/2010 - 12:24 pm.

    Thank you Cindy for putting into words so much that needs to be said and read and heard and digested. Thank you Steve for your courage to give one face to hunger that is startling for many who would rather not see the faces of hunger (or poverty, unemployment, homelessness, mental illness). And to Matt Damon for being the celebrity face that will get folks to take notice.

  5. Submitted by Tami Sornsen on 12/10/2010 - 12:36 pm.

    I can relate to this article, my husband is self-employed and his busines he built over 18 years is virtually gone. Creditors treat you like you are a criminal because you can’t make your bills…there is no help for the self-employed indivuduals either. There is no unemployment benefits, they aren’t counted as unemployed because they are self-employed. There is no work, no help.

  6. Submitted by dan buechler on 12/10/2010 - 03:19 pm.

    This from a prairie populist newspaper of the past. The ways of the king(s) [railroads] who will reign over you. They will take your sons and send them off to war in distant lands [WWI] some will be allowed to plow the land and reap his harvest but it will be his land and his harvest. He will take your daughters away to the cities. He will take the best of your cattle…you will sow but you will not reap.

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/11/2010 - 06:11 am.

    Let’s hope every Democrat (and even Republicans who haven’t yet completely bought into far-right propaganda) will listen to Senator Bernie Sanders and kill the “compromise” bill that will add almost a billion dollars to the deficit over the next decade while denying any but extremely limited help to those who have been harmed so grievously by a Congress that caters to corporate greed instead of to their constituents’ needs.

  8. Submitted by dan buechler on 12/11/2010 - 08:21 am.

    In 2002 Bush II appointed Eric Bost to the USDA. Bost expanded eligibility (and enrollment) for nutritional aid. Also in 2002 Bush II supported food aid for legal immigrants. This farm bill (often red states)resulted in 300,000 more people getting food support, its cost ran into the billions. These monies are one reason there has been push back coming from the hard ideological right republican party. Ms. Boyd perhaps you could do an interview with a prof the the UMN St. Paul campus. Or a proper government official from MN or Washington. These are examples of government doing something correctly.

  9. Submitted by Katherine Werner on 12/13/2010 - 11:09 pm.

    Great article, but why wouldn’t MinnPost run the one based on TC United Way abruptly* ending in 12/08 their successful, modestly-funded Hunger Project just as local food shelf use in the began to rise? Susan? Scott? If United Way had continued that project for the 3 years as planned – and as budgeted – there’d be one less new face of hunger in line each month at a food shelf – me. I was manager of this project for 2 years and laid off. *I was offered a 5% pay raise 30 days before being laid off.

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