Using real estate as an engine for giving

Eric Sheldahl strapped on his helmet and climbed aboard his Y-2K bike, a turbine power motorcycle. From where he sat, the two-mile runway didn’t look all that long. This was serial #3 of a very special production bike (Jay Leno owned serial #2) and as Eric likes to say, “We rode them like we stole them.”

Volunteers load up boxes for distribution

Within seconds, his turbine roared like thunder across the barren landscape, approaching almost 200 miles per hour. This was a man born with a need for speed, but he never dreamed it would be generosity that would take him on the ride of his life.

From building jet-powered vehicles to real estate investing, Eric has gone after a variety of interesting pursuits throughout his life. But none has been more fulfilling than the investment of time, talent, and treasure he and his wife are making in their local Midwest Food Bank, he says.

Since they made their first donation in 2014, Eric and Mary’s passion for alleviating hunger and food insecurity has grown into a true calling. Today, they serve in the daily operations of the Midwest Food Bank location that they helped build in Gilbert, Arizona. Looking back, Eric and Mary say they could have never imagined how God was preparing them in light of the pandemic.

“The need is so overwhelming now, and I’m so glad we started serving when we did,” giving us a measure of maturity, Eric says.

“We would have never been prepared for what is happening now.” Mary adds. “It’s not just people experiencing homelessness or poverty that need help. Many professionals have lost their jobs or their hours have been cut. People from all walks of life urgently need food.”

In 2019, their location distributed $17 million worth of food, but in the first six months of 2020, they had already given away $19 million. Their operations have grown from a 26,000-square-foot space to an additional 90,000-square-foot warehouse, which was miraculously loaned to Midwest Food Bank in March. The generous donor even pays for the utilities on the space.

To grow their financial support for the food bank and their other favorite causes, Eric and Mary have utilized an innovative giving strategy that they learned about in a video from another NCF giver.

He had explained how the Lord had called him to give away part of his business so that future company profits could fund his future charitable granting. “That’s when I knew that I had to call NCF,” Eric says.

From the donation of a huge warehouse to new sources of food, help from the Arizona National Guard and even the city paying for their employees who were going to be furloughed to work here instead, it’s all God.
– Mary Sheldahl

So, Eric got in touch with the NCF team in Chicago and learned that he had a unique opportunity to give more. When he donated an investment property he owned directly to charity, he received a charitable deduction and had more to give. “I had a piece of property I had purchased back in 2013 and leased back to QuikTrip, so it had appreciated quite a bit,” Eric says.

“I knew if I sold it, I would take a really big tax bite,” he says. But NCF explained that he could donate the property directly, save the capital gains tax, and the proceeds of any future sale of the property would go into his Giving Fund. Then, he and Mary could recommend grants to the charities that they love, like the food bank.”

By leveraging their resources this way, Eric says, he and Mary are thrilled to continue to support an effort that they see God’s hand in every day.  “Now my business partner is the Lord.”

“It’s humbling to see the outpouring of generosity in our community and to see God orchestrating everything. From the donation of a huge warehouse to new sources of food, help from the Arizona National Guard and even the city paying for their employees who were going to be furloughed to work here instead, it’s all God,” Mary says.

“God is doing miracles at Midwest Food Bank,” Eric says. And we’re amazed that our Lord lets us help.”

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