"Brown Bagging" Ensures Calgary's Homeless Kids Receive Nutritious Meals

The Brown Bagging For Calgary Street Kids Society has a unique approach to battling homelessness among youth, providing over 1,120 nutritious lunches a week to the city's street kids. After installing a new Board and new Management, the organization - which for years has been struggling to develop predictable and sustained funding - aggressively turned the corner in 2003.

"We're the only organization in Calgary that provides lunches and provides better nutrition to youth," notes Kimberley Walroth, Program Director. Leveraging their unique position in Calgary's charitable marketplace, Brown Bagging embarked on its first ever corporate and foundation fund raising campaign 11 months ago.

The effort has given the charity a degree of financial stability, the security to expand its efforts by as much as 1000 lunches as week, as well as the opportunity to envision what the future might hold.

In 2002, the Society made approximately 52,000 nutritious lunches for disadvantaged youth in Calgary. This year the goal is to distribute over 58,000 lunches, while ensuring that all their bags contain vegetables, fruit, snack and milk or juice, as well as a sandwich.

Brown Bagging's lunches are currently distributed through two local agencies, but Walroth is hoping to expand that network in the coming weeks. The Society is also looking at creating a scholarship program and developing low income housing, with 10 small apartments for youth aged 16 to 25.

The Secret to Their Success
Up until last year, Brown Bagging had never attempted to raise funds from corporations or foundations. Despite using BIG to qualify their prospects, the first several months of their fundraising effort were tough going.

As Walroth recounts, Brown Bagging was beginning to feel significant frustration. "A week later, all this money came rolling in," up to $6000 in the month of December alone. "Then we realized we had to be a bit more patient with this effort."

Over a period of seven months Brown Bagging has raised close to $22,000 using BIG Online. "I certainly couldn't have done all this on my own. BIG was essential."

One of their more gratifying grants was a $2500 donation from the F.K. Morrow Foundation, which according to Walroth, was a bit of, "a shot in the dark" to begin with.

The largest grant they've received so far was $4,400. "We haven't been asking for huge sums of money," she notes. Instead, Brown Bagging works from the assumption that, "if you just ask them for a small piece of the puzzle," your chances of being successful are that much higher.

One approach Walroth uses is to tell donors that her organization, "only needs 12 sponsors a year to survive." She then suggests that a corporation or foundation become the sponsor of an entire month's worth of activities.

Walroth also claims to be a stickler for research. Normally she'll go to BIG to find a lead, then cross-reference that information with anything she can find from the foundation or corporation's homepage. If they don't have one, she'll go back and do a detailed internet search and make notes of anything significant the organization has done. "It makes a really good combination that works."

Her success ratio is not high, about 5% by Walroth's estimate. That's OK, because she can usually "crank out" nine or ten applications a day. "You can't write three grants and expect to get them all back You really have to be committed to it and willing to do a lot of work before you get results."

She cautions fundraisers to wait at least nine months before their work starts to pay dividends. Most of all, charities and non-profits should remember that, "your cycle and your schedule aren't the same as the foundation."

Part of the reason Brown Bagging approached corporations and foundations in the first place was simply to increase awareness, notes Walroth. Although it's difficult sometimes to imagine how the old stereotypes about homeless kids persist, "by approaching corporations and foundations we were able to transfer that image to them and say: 'this is a big issue in our society that needs to be fixed and you can't ignore it.'"

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