A few months ago, I was asked to emcee a music event that involved me introducing bands, being the hype guy for one of the coolest hip-hop bands in the Midwest, and honing my skills as a fundraiser to help pay down debt for families who couldn’t afford to pay for lunches at schools across the metro areas.
And though the cost of lunch is around $3 a kid, there are countless families who find themselves unable to pay and in a financial hole that is seemingly impossible to dig out of.
This fraction of a cost to all things education has turned out to be one of the things that has had my nonprofit fundraising blood boiling.
In many cases, instead of getting nothing, the school provides a bag lunch for them, while everyone else picks from a variety of options.
These kids, who don’t get to join their friends in enjoying rectangle pizza, or those random days where donuts are available, are clearly designated as the odd ones out.
And I clearly remember middle school. Kids are freaking mean. And with all those hormones buzzing, the search for any reason for a quip or joke to leverage themselves as the funny one and pointing out an obvious difference to grab attention from the larger group is always just bubbling below the surface.
How did these kids feel? Probably not great, knowing that their parents couldn’t afford $3, and that they, themselves, have no way to earn money to pay for things. There’s pretty clear laws about 11 year old's working.
It’s amazing that we can’t seem to figure out how to fix this problem, before they are forced to eat with the equivalent of a brown paper bag “A” pinned to their jacket.
This whole situation had me wondering out loud, and not for the first time, why on earth we would even consider something like this as acceptable.
There’s plenty of talk about ensuring that kids needing more and more mental health services, to cope with what social media does to make them feel like they aren’t enough. This shouldn't involve complex rules and regulations. Just freaking feed ‘em. And more importantly, stop creating a system to make them stand out as different or less than.
It lead me to ask a number of school officials across the region how many kids have a school lunch debt that prevents them from having lunch or breakfast during the day.
Spoiler alert, way more than we should accept. Like, so many.
Sure, they are provided a sunflower-paste sandwich and perhaps a piece of fruit, but imagine how much better a kid would concentrate, excel at sports, or enjoy being a child with their friends if they weren’t worried about if they will go hungry for the rest of the day?
Seems like a simple fix that is complicated only by red tape, politics and stubbornness.
It was, yet, another reminder why nonprofits exist.
They are created out of the frustration that the public entities we entrust to create a safety net for those who can’t help themselves and protected and cared for, don’t have the capability or funding to do so.
They are created to fill the gaps in services that the government won’t help solve.
They are created by parents and family and community who want to live in a place where equity and compassion are distributed to all regardless of socio-economic status, race, religion or sexual identity.
But with no money, there is no mission.
So we have to fundraise.
Because if not us, who?
I had the joy of working at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation which was formed because parents, who’s kids were dying of a genetic disorder, were sick and tired of the federal government saying there are too few kids affected by it to justify funding for research.
So they pooled their money, and set off to privately fund research.
Because if not them, who?
I had the honor of working with the Anne Carlsen Center, which was founded to provide an life of independence to young kids who were born with severe developmental disabilities and delays and were alive only by the grace of God or miracle of science, because they too deserved joy, education and a place to rest their heads that wasn’t an institution.
And they privately raised funds to do just that.
Because if not them, who?
And over the last 6 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of groups who provided frontline nurses access to mental health services (not provided by the institutions that had them working extraordinary hours during a pandemic), animal shelters who take in dogs and cats hours away from euthanasia because of lack of space at the pound (because the city has a blind eye to the welfare of abandoned animals), and organizations providing early intervention for families with kids with autism (because families were not allotted solutions for programming from their healthcare providers).
All private funding to help make the world a better place for those who need a hand up.
Because if not them, who?
Recently, at the end of every webinar I have been asked to present at, I’ve taken the time to remind each of the fundraising professionals, board members or volunteers that their work matters.
Now more than ever.
And it has fueled my passion and enthusiasm to help nonprofits raise a helluva lot more funds to make those communities a better place.
How? Well, I’m going to show you.
And I’m going to do it alongside with you. I’ll be raising money to pay down school lunch debt at my children’s grade school. With the big hairy audacious goal of ensuring they have enough for the remainder of the year as well.
I’m going to document the whole thing, and frankly it would be a lot more fun if I had some folks working on their own projects so we can encourage each other at the same time.
Also, I’m bad at business, so I’m giving it all away for free too.
We’ll make sure you and your team have access, the support and the encouragement to do this awesome work.
Let’s DO THIS!