By Michelle Book | President, Food Bank of Iowa

Earlier this month, I received a note from a young woman with whom I meet from time to time to share life’s experiences and lessons. She is taking time each week to write to a woman who has inspired her in some way. I was delighted to receive her note, not only for her kind words, but because the note reminded me of the many important women in my life.

My grandmother, a simple farm woman, showed me unconditional love and taught me the importance of working hard, fulfilling commitments, saying thank you and being nice. Gramma Goldie encouraged me to be the first in my family to attend college. She believed in me.

I’ve been inspired by passionate and innovative young female entrepreneurs. I learn new ways to think about my world from every interaction with Laura Palmer, Liz Lidgett, Katie Patterson, Whitney Warne (my amazing daughter) and many, many others.  

Sandy Hatfield Clubb taught me how to show up and be vulnerable. And because of her, I’ve become a Brené Brown disciple. Brown’s writings on vulnerability, strength and leadership have changed the way I lead and am led. Sandy herself led by example, being vulnerable and doing the right thing even when it was unpopular to do so. 

Additionally, Toni Urban and Loretta Sieman have taught me how to ask for what I want, how to fight for people who can’t fight for themselves and how to be a fearless advocate for those who need a voice. I carry their strength with me into each new day as I fight to achieve the Food Bank of Iowa’s vision of a hunger-free Iowa. 

Through Julia Gentleman and her love affair with my dear deceased Uncle Darrell, I learned it’s never too late to fall in love. Julia also taught me that meditation isn’t perfect, because nothing is. And that women must be strong and vocal advocates for their own reproductive rights, because the system won’t do it for us.  

Connie Wimer has consistently been the quiet promoter of dozens, if not hundreds, of women, and I too have benefited from her support. How many women are in an elevated role because Connie made certain they were in the right place at the right time? We’ll never know.  

Last, but not least, Allison Fleming taught me how to be a competent and effective board member and encouraged me to be a brave one. I’ve learned that fulfilling one’s duty as a board member requires commitment, strength and the courage to do the right thing – which is not always the easy thing. 

So, what do these women all have in common? They showed up. They helped. They inspired. As women, we have the choice every day as to whether we take the time to lift up another woman. These women chose to help others. 

I spoke to the Iowa Grocery Industry Association women’s group a couple of weeks ago when they arrived at the Food Bank of Iowa to volunteer. Their purpose was twofold: Do something good in the world while also building relationships of trust with one another. I hope they left the Food Bank of Iowa with a sense of accomplishment AND a deeper desire to help one another succeed.  

I am grateful for the women in my life who have demonstrated generosity, commitment, leadership, bravery and vulnerability. They led me down the path of leadership and pushed me to pursue my dreams. To these women, I am grateful. Today, I encourage you to reach out to the women in your life who have done the same for you and say "thank you."