Open Collective
Open Collective
Reflections on 2022
Published on December 22, 2022 by Tony

This month marks the end of our second full year, and we're grateful to everyone who's contributed time, gas, money, and spread the word about us. With the help of the Open Collective Foundation, we’re sitting down to reflect on this year and what we're looking forward to in 2023.

A year of sharing
We’ve accomplished some big numbers! By the end of this year we will have served nearly 20,000 hot meals, primarily via delivery to encampments of unhoused folks all over Minneapolis. We've diverted at least ten thousand pounds of expired and overstocked produce from landfills by rescuing most of our food in partnership with Twin Cities Food Justice. In 2022, we used our donations entirely in service of our founding mission: serving nourishing meals. As we're an entirely volunteer-powered group, and First Church graciously shares their space with us, we're able to spend every donated dollar on the extra ingredients, bottled water, and packaging required to turn donated food into complete meals that people genuinely want to eat. 

Speaking of volunteers and First Church:  THANK YOU SO MUCH!  Thank you to our volunteers, without whom we could not continue this work. Also Thank You to First Congregational Church for sharing your space with us for all this time, and for rustling up some parishioners to help us keep the space clean and organized.  We are truly blessed to be welcomed into your space to do this work.
Our challenges
In addition to everyday obstacles, we faced three big challenges this year: serving people where they are, the rising cost of goods, and maintaining our level of service.

To serve people where they are, we need to know where they are - as the city continues to violently destroy encampments, we have to constantly re-write our delivery routes. Having consistent drivers who've gotten to know encampment residents has been a huge asset in staying up-to-date on where people are and what they need as far as food. We've also worked hard to build connections with other groups and individuals who are regularly on the ground to foster a network of communication and support.
The rising cost of goods is another large challenge that we - like the rest of the country - have faced. Inflation affects not only our ingredients, but also our packaging and kitchen supplies. Partnerships with other groups provide most of the produce and staples (like rice and dried beans) we serve, but we supplement those with purchases of protein, dairy, fruit, and water so that we can provide people with adequately nutritional meals. We also need to pack our food for transport, which means stickers for labeling the contents and date of packed meals; to-go boxes or soup cups for the main course; plastic cups for a side of fruit; disposable utensils to eat with and a bag to put it all in. On top of all that, we need to purchase plastic wrap, aluminum foil, soap, sanitizer, paper towels and all the other miscellaneous kitchen expenses that often get overlooked. With all of these components, prices add up!
Not only do we have these necessary expenses amidst inflation, but also we serve more people than ever. Our operational costs have increased and we’ve met this challenge by increasing our efforts to fundraise and reaching out to our community. We’ve spent time ampping up our social media presence with the help of several regular volunteers. This increased reach has led to some lovely connections: donations of proceeds from a tattoo artist and a jewelry designer creating food-related work; new neighbors sharing delicious desserts; and Northrop Elementary thoughtfully organizing a food drive for us to collect our highest-need dry goods. We’ve been intentional in our outreach for new volunteers by increasing transparency of our process. We’ve also pivoted in our fundraising for increased sustainability by focusing on monthly pledges. As such, we’ve been able to double our monthly income. We’re not yet guaranteed our monthly budget, but being able to rely on these pledges has been crucial in our continued service.

To maintain our level of service, we had to reconsider how the work load was distributed amongst our team of volunteers. This year we realized that having 1 or 2 or even 3 people who keep the kitchen running isn't going to cut it long term. Burnout is a real concern, and we took some steps to mitigate that. We already mentioned that we recruited some volunteers to tackle our social media presence. We also started asking volunteers to participate more in shopping and retrieving donations. We have also started recruiting backup kitchen leads who will allow us to continue operations in the event someone is sick or needs a break.

One of our biggest successes in maintaining our level of service was our plan to handle election day. First Church is a polling place for the city of Minneapolis, and as such, we could not be there cooking that day. We reached out to our most experienced volunteers with a big ask:  Cook, package, and deliver over 200 lasagna meals out of your home kitchens. Our volunteers rose to the challenge and our leadership team provided them with everything they would need for success. We purchased ready-to-bake lasagnas from Costco, as well as all the packaging, fruit cups and treats we would need for a full meal. We divvied up all of these resources between half a dozen homes to be cooked and portioned, and another half a dozen delivery drivers loaded them up in their cars and distributed these meals around the city. It was an inspiring effort and it went swimmingly. And lets not forget that we reached out to our community to fund this project. It cost us an extra $400 dollars to pull off this maneuver, and we were bowled over by everyone's generosity and support.

Looking ahead
We plan to continue to serve people where they are in the coming year! To do so, we’re going to apply our learnings from 2022. We will collaborate with other organizations that support housing and food security for all. To prevent burnout and commit to our longevity, we’re continuing to improve communication and the distribution of labor within our team. 
Lastly, we still have some fundraising to do in order to reach sustainability: our current monthly recurring donations only cover 85-90% of our expenses. We'd love to reach a place where costs are covered so that we have wiggle room to fulfill requests for items like handwarmers, socks, and snacks. We’ve got some campaigns for next year to get us across that line.

We dream of a world of abundance, where everyone has equal access to what they need. Let's work toward that together in 2023 and beyond!
If you’d like to stay connected and learn more about our work, as well as updates about Minneapolis mutual aid, follow us on social media.