“When you’re hungry, nothing else matters.” — William Murdock
As executive director of the Asheville-based Eblen Charities, Bill Murdock knows all too well about hunger and the devastating
effects it can have on children.
Last year Murdock’s organization reached more than 150,000 needy individuals with more than 70 programs providing medical, utility, rent, clothing, food and emergency assistance.
That’s a lot of ground to cover, but Murdock has seen the nonprofit grow from a garage sale to an internationally recognized organization over the past 25 years. What bothers him most, however, is that there are still children out there who fall through the cracks. And in Bill Murdock’s world, that is totally unacceptable.
“The need always outdistances the resources. Anyone who does any public service work would probably agree,” says Murdock.
The sobering truth is that North Carolina has one of the highest percentages in the United States of children under 18 years of age who are food insecure on a regular basis. According to statistics, one in five children in North Carolina are “food insecure,” an odd term used by the federal government to measure hunger. Unfortunately it means that child hunger is rapidly on the rise.
Many times the meals children receive at school is the only food they will have to eat, and when the holidays or other times away from school arrive, far too many face the chance of going hungry until they are back in class.
“When they’re away from school, whether it be on weekends or on holidays or during summer, it’s a major problem,” admits Murdock.
Children, he says, deserve the chance to have healthy meals and the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. To that end, two years ago he launched Headlock on Hunger, an Eblen Charities outreach that helps provide meals for those who don’t get enough to eat. The program’s goal is to provide disadvantaged children access to food during break times from school. The drive also aims to provide snacks for students in primary and elementary schools, as well as students in after-school programs, whose parents cannot afford them.
Since kicking off the initiative, students in the Asheville community have received thousands of meals and snacks thanks to local and national wrestling teams, coaches and fans, as well as altruistic public and private organizations and companies.
The Southern Conference was one of the first to sign on to partner with the programs on a local and regional level.
“When we were doing our snack program, we kind of came up with a name, but it sat on the shelf for at least 10 years,” says Murdock. “When the Southern Conference started holding its basketball championship every year in Asheville, they decided they were going to bring their college wrestling championship here. I was asked to be on the local organizing committee.”
While he was more than happy to oblige, Murdock knew that it might take time away from the vast workload at Eblen. In exchange, he wanted to find a way to benefit those in the community.
“We kind of dusted it off and started Headlock on Hunger. The idea was for Southern Conference teams to have one event at each school where they would collect food or donations, and bring that to Asheville as a thank you to the community for hosting the tournament.”
Local high schools soon followed, with state wrestling champion Enka High coach Mark Harris leading the charge as regional chairman.
“It just grew from there,” says Murdock. “Between Arby’s and Ingles and the food we’ve collected along with donations in the past two years, Headlock on Hunger has done easily more than 200,000 meals thanks to the work of everyone.”
While wrestling is commonly regarded as more of an individualistic effort, a strong team concept emerged from Headlock on Hunger.
“It was definitely a team effort,” says Murdock. “There are a lot of good folks with good hearts who worked on this together. It has worked so well because of their kindness and generosity. Thanks to Joe Brumit at Arby’s and Bobby Ingle and Tom Outlaw and Jim Lanning at Ingles Markets, the whole community has come together. But now, and not only locally, the whole wrestling community has come together.”
The effort will not be confined to Asheville, says Murdock. Waterloo, Iowa — home of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Dan Gable Museum — has shown interest in joining the campaign, as well as Charlotte, where pro wrestling greats Jimmy Garvin (Jimmy Williams) and Magnum T.A. (Terry Allen) are looking to set up a local program. A number of groups are lining up to join the drive.
“Whatever is raised in these communities stays in those communities,” says Murdock.
The Southern Conference wrestling tournament will be held at The Citadel’s McAlister Field House in Charleston for the next two seasons. Local high school teams and youth wrestling programs will be encouraged to collect food and monetary donations that can then be handed over to Headlock on Hunger during the tournament.
“It’s really starting to take hold,” says Murdock. “But it all comes down to this: When you’re hungry, nothing else matters.”
The program has spread, and a number of personalities from the pro wrestling world have joined Murdock in spreading the world nationally.
WWE Hall of Famer announcer and Fox Sports broadcaster Jim Ross serves as the national chairman for Headlock on Hunger. To Ross, there is nothing more rewarding than helping a child in need.
“I don’t believe there should be any hungry children,” says Ross. “I think our federal government does a swell job of talking about obesity, but they don’t talk enough about feeding hungry kids ... I’ve had a fortunate and great career, bigger than my wildest dreams, and I want to be able to give back.”
“When Jim comes here, he comes on his own dime,” says Murdock. “Part of the profits from his condiments, including his barbecue sauce, goes to Headlocks on Hunger. He just did a new T-shirt with proceeds going there as well. He talks about it on his show, and (at events) in Waterloo and in Charlotte. All of that turns into food and making sure that these families and children that we serve have enough to eat, not only away from school on weekends but during the summer and long holiday breaks.”
Other pro wrestling celebrities who have joined the campaign include former WWE world champion Edge (Adam Copeland) and former WWE women’s champion Beth Phoenix (Elizabeth Kocianski). And they have done more than just lend their name to the cause. Along with Murdock and others, they have helped the charity distribute food at local schools.
“It’s great watching all these folks work for the cause,” says Murdock. “It just really shows the heart of these people. They don’t come here as their personalities or their characters; they come here because they have a real heart and see the need. JR makes appearances at Ingles and comes here for four or five days of his tremendously busy schedule, at his own cost, just to help us. And Adam (Edge), a 16-time world heavyweight champion, loads food and takes it into the schools along with Beth (Phoenix). Nick (Nikita Koloff) is the same way. He was up a few weeks ago and came by to help.”
“It’s great, but it’s more of a testament of who they really are,” adds Murdock. “Their time is in such demand by so many folks, and that’s just publicly let alone families and obligations. They sacrifice that precious time to make sure that these kids have something to eat. It’s just amazing.”
Public-private partnerships have brought Ingles, Arbys, the school system, as well as the wresting and mixed martial arts communities together, says Murdock, a wrestling historian who serves on the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum Hall of Fame board and is the author of several books, including a critically acclaimed autobiography of the late great NWA world champion Jack Brisco.
WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Brisco, who also works with the organization, said wrestlers have an idea what it’s like to go without regular food rations. But unlike the hungry children who have no option, wrestlers know where their next meal is coming from.
“As a wrestler, a lot of us know what hunger is because we chose to cut weight. So we had a choice we know how hunger feels. But a lot of kids don’t have choices. They’re hungry because they have no means to be fed. And that’s the reason we’re involved in this great cause.”
“It’s everyone joining together to make sure every child has enough to eat,” adds Murdock.
Murdock helped start Eblen Charities, then known as the Eblen Foundation, 25 years ago. He sees his mission simply as to help develop programs that help people. He found much of his inspiration in the teachings of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the tiny nun who devoted her life to the poor and who recently was declared a saint by Pope Francis at the Vatican.
“The greatest thing anybody can do is to reach out to those less fortunate,” says Murdock. “We’re all a day away, or a week away, from being in that position. There’s no greater value to anyone’s life.”
His latest endeavor is just an extension of that philosophy.
“So much of what we do is based on that. Like Mother Teresa said: If you can’t feed a thousand people, feed just one. She always said to never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time. And always start with the person nearest you.”
Her life of service — no matter what obstacles might occur — was a guiding principle for Murdock’s dedication to helping those less fortunate.
“I was fortunate to correspond with Mother, and so much what we do is based on that. It’s that real simplicity and the caring for each one that comes in. Without all those who help us, this is not possible. Anything worth doing is not worth doing by yourself. Just to see what we’ve done here in the past two years is no short of amazing. But it’s because of the kindness of so many folks.”
“I don’t think there’s anybody around that does a better job than Eblen Charities in serving the people.” says Brisco. “They take care of the people first. They don’t ask questions, they don’t make you feel like you’re there for charity. They’re there to help. Bill Murdock is as good a man as you’ll ever find.”
For more information on the program, visit headlockonhunger.net, the Headlock on Hunger page on Facebook, or simply call Murdock at Eblen headquarters in Asheville.