Clark County Food Fiends founder: ‘There is so much love and compassion here’

Group amasses 18K members in first year with a focus on the positives about Springfield food scene.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Building community in Springfield and Clark County has become a calling for Ryan Ray.

He’s a firm believer in Coretta Scott King’s quote that “the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

When Ray launched a public Facebook group a year ago focused on local food businesses, he had no idea where it would lead.

Now, he is on the verge of celebrating the first anniversary of Clark County Food Fiends with thousands of friends (and fiends) who have joined in what has become a phenomenon for Clark County.

The official launch anniversary date is March 27, but more than one celebration is planned. Anyone who is a member of Ray’s Clark County Food Fiends page understands why.

“Don’t wait for the holidays! There are plenty of things to celebrate and reasons to gather,” Ray said. “And celebrations always involve great food.”

The page launched last year as Ray took some downtime in Tennessee with his son.

“The pandemic had ended and there were so many businesses who were only able to hang on by a thread. They were starting to open up again only to face help shortages,” Ray said. “The main goal I had in mind was for it to be a positive space to bring people together who love to eat, and to support the great local restaurants in our community.”

Father and son were still in Tennessee when the site launched. His son checked on followers and offered reports on new additions.

“He told me when we reached 300, and we wondered if we might get to 1,000,” Ray said. “We thought that would be the coolest.”

Now, followers number 18,100 in 12 months time.

From the outset Ray held firm on redirecting negativity away from his group, sticking to the upbeat.

His No. 1 Rule: Be Positive. His page lays it out clearly. This group was not created as a sounding board for what you feel isn’t right with an eatery. There are other platforms for that, including your own personal page. Please keep your posts upbeat and positive.

“We as a nation are so quick to share negative stuff. The minute you open that door you gain nothing,” Ray said. “That cannot be the first option. My goal is to retrain and reprogram people to a protocol that when you encounter an issue or problem, allow the owner or management to right it. It’s very damaging to paint a place as terrible and create an unfair perception online. People need to go directly to the source of their dissatisfaction and start a conversation.”

His No. 2 Rule: Embrace Local. The majority of posts on the site must be Clark County related food posts. While many Clark Countians travel for various reasons and can share positive experiences from other locations, Ray requires that 80% of content is Clark County specific.

Joy Thomas Wright posted in the group that Ray deserves an award for his work shining a light on the food scene here.

“He has done so much for this community and beyond. Such a great role model for all of us and help to local businesses,” she said. “Thank you Ryan for your infectious attitude, and inspiring example for so many people. Keep up the good work!”

Ray gets inquires from other communities about how they can replicate his formula. He thinks people have gravitated to the page because it is light-hearted and positive.

Food Fiends are engaged and involved. Ray is proud that the result has been the building of an online community that has evolved to live out Coretta King’s vision of “compassionate actions.”

Group members champion their favorite restaurants. “A lot of the smaller restaurants don’t have much of a marketing budget,” Ray said. “People who post on our site become unofficial ambassadors for restaurants they love.”

“We don’t need to compare ourselves to others,” Ray said. “We need to see what we do well, embrace it, share and celebrate it.”

Ray, whose full-time job is with Salvation Army, is effusive about the Clark County community as a whole and sees Food Fiends as a microcosm.

“I lived in Montrose, Colorado, for awhile and it has nothing of the community dynamic we have here,” said Ray. “I see the good in this community - the businesses that want to work with Salvation Army and help the community. I also see the needs of the community in 3D, but I see the other side too. When the motorcycle biker groups conduct their annual Toy Run, which they’ve been doing for years, they have one goal - to make sure kids in Clark County have a good Christmas.

“There is so much love and compassion here.”

As far as what comes next for Clark County Food Fiends, Ray is excited to see.

“The fun part is in the mystery. Collectively, it has been a really cool movement,” he said. “It’s always about the people involved and the family feel. People are always looking for great causes and initiatives to be part of. We are discovering that what we can do together is something bigger and better.”

Clark County Food Fiends celebrations

Clark County Food Fiends members have plans for the group’s anniversary and for the summer.

CCFF will mark its one year anniversary on March 30 when the group takes over CoHatch with plans to introduce the eateries there to people who have not yet visited. A March 25 celebration at Eatly Restaurant quickly sold out.

Plans also include a June 24 barbecue food truck competition with details to come.

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