Laramie Soup Kitchen
What personal accomplishment are you most proud of?
As Executive Director of the Laramie Soup Kitchen, I have the opportunity to evaluate operations, expand services, streamline efforts, and develop new policies. Organizational skills, process engineering, and cost/benefit analysis are strengths that I often employ wherever I am involved. While working for another non-profit, a person noted that if a less expensive way existed to complete the project, I would find it. During the first year at the Soup Kitchen: awareness efforts led to 1,991 more meals served (not including meals to-go), willingness to create new partnerships launched an youth afterschool sack lunch program of 1,039 meals, community education and renewed donor relationships increased food donations by 60,872 pounds, and an interest to share such generosity developed into a program that redistributed 15,758 pounds of food to other non-profits. Working diligently to keep costs low in all other areas, the net increase of expenditures totaled less than $400.
What is your primary personal development goal/business goal for the next 5 years?
As new donor relationships were formed and food donations increased 230%, how could a conversation about edible food waste not follow? We have all heard the statistics for how much food is discarded in the U.S., but what if businesses in Laramie could commit to doing things differently - a commitment to zero edible food waste. What would it take for all food still fit for human consumption to be donated to a non-profit or given to a person in need? Yes, a definition is required for what is considered edible, but volunteers often see how the lines are blurred when they learn about manufacturer date systems and how to trim blemished fresh produce. Education would be key, along with listening to all those involved from suppliers, to retailers, to consumers. As businesses made the commitment, though, the endeavor would snowball. What’s more, this cause has another major consequence, the end of food insecurity for so many throughout Laramie.
What is your biggest philanthropic achievement?
At the end of 2015, and less than two months after being hired, the Laramie Soup Kitchen developed a comprehensive fundraising plan for the following year. One key component was to organize a major fundraising event cultivating support by major donors and elevating awareness of our mission. Board Members presented an idea for entertainment unique to Laramie and an unusual raffle concept. In just four short months spent coordinating all the details, what emerged was a Dueling Pianos Fundraiser & Wine Pull. “Successful” was an understatement with comments like, “We didn’t even feel like we were at a fundraising event” and “The most fun we’ve had all year!” Additionally, the $6,500 in net proceeds exceeded all expectations. The form was in place and planning for the second annual fundraiser immediately followed. Tripling the ticket sales, doubling the number of wines, and upgrading to all the amenities the Gateway Center and University has available, enabled the Soup Kitchen to raise $18,000 in 2017. With another clear success, a few ideas to increase contributions, and already several requests for tables, the next event on April 6, 2018 is sure to continue the trend and help the Laramie Soup Kitchen do even more.
What action or event that you've been a part of, that you believe has made the biggest difference in Laramie? Or are you most proud of?
The capacity of the Laramie community to share generously was apparent when food donations increased by 60,000 pounds between 2015 and 2016. Working to raise awareness of our mission, develop new donor relationships, and simplify the rules for what could be received, contributed substantially to this increase. The impact, however, would have been minimal without the decision to develop a food redistribution program to benefit non-profits working with clients who experience food insecurity. Nearly 16,000 pounds of food was delivered to places like the Cathedral Home for Children, Interfaith Good Samaritan, and at least 12 other organizations in addition to the 80,000 pounds or so provided as meals or to others in need.
What excites you most about the future of Laramie?
The last couple of years have seen a new movement of collaboration among non-profits. As we learn more about the mission and services offered by other organizations, we know where to refer our clients and can redirect donations to where they are needed most. All organizations benefit from this approach and so too each person who needs assistance. Furthermore, as the University considers incorporating a service-learning component into all degrees, lack of volunteers should rarely be an issue and the potential for long-term financial and in-kind supporters of the human services sector, immeasurable.
What do you think has helped make you successful in your endeavors?
Growth of the organization, new directions, and invaluable partnerships were all made possible through a willingness to respond yes. When a proposal is first introduced, the benefits cannot often be predicted, but openness generates opportunity. Recruiting the highest caliber individuals for both Board and staff positions is also essential; necessary too, is relying on their expertise. Through a dedicated team, great ideas are generated and innovative solutions are easily integrated.
What advice would you give to other young professionals in Laramie?
Learn to network. Relationships are built through multiple relatively insignificant encounters over time. Just as a Director of Development would not recommend asking potential donors for a contribution until, through relationship, you know what they want to support, so also is relationship necessary to all of business. Practice making new connections everywhere, spend more time listening than talking, and do so with no other agenda than for an opportunity to interact and learn.