Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hopeful Signs as We Wait for Recovery

The headlines in the newspaper, the sound bites on the radio, and the lead stories on the evening news, don’t seem to be getting any better. One day it’s the housing industry that’s in crisis, next it’s the auto business and then it’s the banks. The market is down and unemployment is up. All of us are wondering when the economy is going to bottom out and the recovery will begin. I’m very fortunate that I continue to get to work at Open Arms where every day we see hopeful signs of an eventual recovery.


Let me be clear, I’m not saying that the recession doesn’t continue to present challenges for Open Arms. We have had to suspend the inclusion of orange juice and yogurt with our clients’ deliveries. We have implemented hiring and salary freezes while reducing the benefits we offer our employees. We worry that we can’t possibly keep up with the increasing demand for services.


What I mean when I say that we are seeing sings of a turn-around is in the very atmosphere that permeates Open Arms every day of the week. Long-serving volunteers continue to give us their time – cooking and packaging meals, delivering those meals throughout the Twin Cities, and helping us in the office. Many new people have begun volunteering in this tough time because they realize that the needs are even greater now and that there is much that can be done to address those needs. Yes, we are seeing some new volunteers who unexpectedly find themselves unemployed. For all of our volunteers – but especially those who are struggling in this economy – Open Arms has become a refuge from the unsettling headlines and sound bites.


Today, most of us are faced with tremendous challenges; and things may, in fact, get worse before they get better. It seems that there are some things that we have little or no control over. We can, however, still create a positive environment where the community continues to come together to make sure that people who are sick, don’t have to go hungry. There has always been a need for Open Arms – perhaps no more than right now. Fortunately, this community has always risen to meet that need. And this generosity of spirit is a very hopeful sign that this difficult period, too, shall pass.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Shovel Ready: Yes, We Are

When the economy went south last fall many people started asking how a prolonged recession would affect our campaign to construct a new building and expand our programs to serve more people. Would we need to postpone construction, scale back our plans, or maybe even rethink the entire campaign? We had found ourselves in a whole new world and I, along with most everyone else, was wishing for an economic crystal ball that could foretell our financial future. At a minimum, I wish I would have paid more attention in the economics classes I took at the University of Minnesota.


Although I’m not an economist, and certainly not a soothsayer, I am fortunate to have a smattering of common sense that perhaps could translate to the economic turmoil. Practicality suggested that if markets were down and unemployment rates up, that we were going to need to grow ourselves out of this recession. Seemingly overnight, the impact our building project could have in the community became even greater than we had imagined.


Not only will our campaign give us the physical space we need to expand our programs to serve more clients throughout the metro area, and help to revitalize the Phillips neighborhood, now we can also play a small part in helping to get Americans back to work. Our Kitchen Campaign: Building the Future of Open Arms has become a micro economic stimulus project.


We still need to raise $2.4 million to complete our $8.1 million campaign, but we are moving forward. After all, we had a “shovel ready” project in the works long before we started learning about the critical importance of “shovel ready” projects to the economic stimulus package.


Open Arms’ capital campaign has kept project managers, architects, and kitchen designers busy for months. Soon, we hope to keep a general contractor, sub-contractors, and numerous vendors employed. Is our construction project at 25th and Bloomington going to end the recession? Of course not. Is it going to provide work for many more people at a very critical time for our economy? Absolutely.


Our “shovel ready” project is one more example of how the added value of Open Arms’ work will just continue to grow and grow.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Bowl is a Super Opportunity to Give Back

Super Bowl Sunday is second only to Thanksgiving as the biggest food day of the year in the United States. The game between the Cardinals and the Steelers this year presents an opportunity to indulge in huge quantities of chips, salsa and guacamole, washed down with plenty of ice cold beer. In many ways, Super Bowl Sunday is more of a national holiday than some of the recognized days when public offices are closed and there is no mail delivery.


For those of us who work in the non-profit world – especially for non-profit organizations that provide social services like hunger relief – the champion of all food days, Thanksgiving, is the kick-off of our busy season. On that day, volunteers are eager to assist at soup kitchens or deliver meals to those who are ill or elderly. The combination of the spirit of giving during the holiday season, along with tax incentives for financial contributions, results in year-end gifts that help balance our budgets in the final days of December.


Then we ring out the old year and ring in the new, and many people seem to hunker down for the remainder of the winter. Far fewer people call our agencies to volunteer and financial contributions dry up for months. Non-profit organizations, like many Minnesotans, just try our best to get through the remaining months of the winter. But what if the spirit of the season didn’t end on New Years Day? What if that same eagerness to share our time and resources with others continued – at least until Super Bowl Sunday?


This Super Bowl – even in a challenging economic environment – Americans are expected to spend $9.6 billion dollars with most of that money being spent on food and drinks. Assuming a population of approximately 304,000,000 Americans, that translates into roughly $31.50 being spent by every woman, man and child in the nation on snacks for the big game. If everyone would donate just one percent of the amount of money they will spend on the Super Bowl (an average of 32 cents per person) $96 million could be raised to support hunger and nutrition causes in the United States. If the food and beverage companies that produce and distribute these products would agree to match these donations with a one percent contribution of their own – virtually overnight nearly $200 million would be raised.


The $9.6 billion in food and drink will be consumed by about 167 million adults who are expected to watch the showdown between the Steelers and the Cardinals. That’s a whole lot of television viewing hours. What if everyone who watched Super Bowl XLIII committed to volunteering just one hour in the next month for a food-related cause? That would be 167 million hours of volunteer time improving communities around the country.


By mobilizing one of the largest television audiences of the year to give – just one percent of the money they spend on snacks, and only an hour of the time – to non-profit organizations addressing hunger and nutrition issues, everyone, from the winning quarterback to the millions of chip-eating football fans, could be a Super Bowl champion.