Business Unusual: Growth in Uncertainty

It takes a true visionary to witness need and step up to implement beneficial change with minimal resources starting out. In part two of our incredible interview with Shauntrice Martin, we spoke about collaboration, creating innovative change during crisis, and utilizing community partnerships to benefit the many.

(Please note: this was recorded while Shauntrice was in transit, during her only available window of time. We recognize the sound quality is less than perfect, but felt her work and words were too important not to share. We did our best to clean up the sound so that everybody could benefit from her wisdom and vision!)

Read the Interview

Michelle Winnett: So Feed the West was born out of a need during a crisis. And it isn’t every business person who naturally embraces helping others during uncertainty. Can you speak about the importance of giving and serving when a shifting landscape can make it feel counterintuitive to try to do it right now?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah, it definitely when I first talked about the idea to folks, they were like, “That’s terrible. It’s like good in theory, but how are you going to do it? How are you going to distribute stuff? It’s COVID. How are you going to make sure it’s safe? People aren’t going to trust you to just show up to their doors and bring food. They don’t know you.”

Shauntrice Martin:
And the really beautiful thing to see was we had like 900 volunteers sign up in that first day. We had hundreds of people asking for food and not one of them was like, “Oh no, but like, I don’t want a stranger to come. I’m just going to come get it myself.” Like, it’s COVID. People appreciated us having the delivery system. And the other thing we saw is type of like, we don’t consider ourselves a business accelerator by any means, but we also got to connect with businesses.

Shauntrice Martin:
Some of them, like the convenience stores and the small food marts that are in our neighborhoods in the West End, they also weren’t able to get certain supplies or they couldn’t buy in as big of bulk because they weren’t sure if they would be able to sell those products with folks being quarantined.

Shauntrice Martin:
So what we were able to do was work with a couple of those small black owned convenience stores and figure out what’s their inventory, because as a nonprofit we have access to buying in bulk despite the coronavirus pandemic. So we were able to buy some of the inventory for these convenience stores to help them stay afloat. We were able to pay small black businesses that were caterers or restaurants that were struggling to make sure that they had business during the pandemic.

Shauntrice Martin:
We’ve had dozens of black owned restaurants that we’ve worked with over the last few months. And we’re also able to say, “Hey, corporate sponsor, yes, you gave us this grant, and that’s great. But also, for any of your events, here are some black businesses that could really use your support, that could really use your dollars.”

Shauntrice Martin:
And the same thing with our PoC owned businesses. There’s one I want to shout out, Dragon King’s Daughter, which we sent a lot of people to. We love working with her. And then we have black businesses like Queen of Sheba and Shamita’s Little Store. I mean, I can name a bunch, but these businesses have been amazing. And some of them may not have the means to pay for social media ads. They don’t have necessarily the background like they are chefs. So they’re great at cooking the food and presenting the food, but they may not have the capacity or the staff to amplify their message.

Shauntrice Martin:
So we’ve been very blessed to be able to do that for folks, because we don’t want to jump into the restaurant game by any means, but what we can do is help those folks, make sure their businesses stay afloat during the pandemic and beyond. So we’ve been very proud to be able to do that in a small way.

Shauntrice Martin:
And so, as a person who has started businesses, who has worked with startups, it’s not just food. It’s connected to so much more. And a person who is struggling to have their business get off the ground, but they’re also struggling with food, clothes, and shelter, if you can give them some free groceries a few times, that means that they can, “Okay, now I can pay for my website because I don’t have that bill. Now I can make sure the lights are on.” It connects to so many other things, and it just helps folks to blossom professionally and personally. So it brings me so much joy to just be able to connect with folks and see how their businesses grow.

Shauntrice Martin:
I just spoke with … I picked my son up actually from an organization that didn’t really have the opportunity to flourish before the pandemic, because there was so many posts competing with them and they couldn’t really get the word out about their program. And so it’s been really good to have that opportunity to make sure that these businesses that would otherwise kind of sink get to flourish. So Real Kids Playcare is a black owned business that not a lot of people knew about, but now we were able to pay for a bulk of hours. So parents can just drop in and say, “Hey, I’m with Change Today Change Tomorrow and they said I could have two hours today, or I can have eight hours today.” And it’s been great because then those parents can work on their business plan while their children are being taken care of in a COVID-safe environment and a healthy … emotionally and otherwise healthy environment.

Shauntrice Martin:
So we are very proud of that. And part of the reason we’ve been able to do that more in the last few months is because people trust us from Feed the West. I know I’m like talking your head off with that. One thing I’m really proud about is just those connections.

Michelle Winnett:
It’s fascinating. Absolutely. And Feed the West’s growth in such a short time has also been amazing. So what has happened in a few months time and what is the trajectory look like from here?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah. So we actually just hit 17,000 people getting food from us in the last three months. It’s almost three months. It’s almost our three month anniversary next week. So we’ve been able to give groceries to 17,000 people in the West End. Each person gets at least $85 worth of groceries. Now, some weeks we may have a lot more donations or we might have a grant that month. And so we’re able to give more. But at a base we give at least $85 worth of groceries, and it has been amazing.

Shauntrice Martin:
And in addition to the groceries, we’ve also run Clothe the West through Rebecca Ward at Black Lives Matter Louisville. And she’s been able to work with hundreds of people and it’s just, it has flourished. And it’s just, it’s really exciting to see folks start businesses and start initiatives from doing Feed the West or volunteering with us.

Shauntrice Martin:
We’ve had some folks who, when they started with us, they had zero non-profit and development experience and now they’re able to consult for other organizations. Now they’re able to add this on their resume, that they helped us raise money for a program or helped us coordinate a program. And Feed the West has again, turned into something else.

Shauntrice Martin:
We also have Black Market Kentucky, which is going to be a grocery store in the West End, small grocery store focused on primarily black owned vendors. So having food in the store that was produced and created by black folks, specifically black farmers like Kentucky Greens, Cleave Family Market, Barber Farms because a lot of times those farmers through historical injustices and share cropping have not gotten the opportunity to be in major stores. So we’re super excited about that.

Shauntrice Martin:
And it’s allowed us to have an ecosystem of success. So not just the food from where we’re getting our flyers printed, by the way, it’s the Mattel Group, which is also black owned. I know I’m shouting out a lot of people here, but it’s enabled us to do something we’re passionate about while also being able to sustain our own families.

Shauntrice Martin:
In this time a lot of people are struggling. A lot of people don’t have an opportunity like we do. And we’re trying to share the wealth. And while I’m still a volunteer, so I don’t get paid for Feed the West at all, I’ve been able to connect with people who have been able to join executive boards where I’m making connections with folks. So even though I don’t get paid as a Feed the West volunteer, I do get in touch with people who want to pay for my services, which is amazing. Because I don’t know if I would have this robust of an opportunity, pre-Feed the West. So I’m very close to all our residents who trusted us enough to let us come to their homes and bring them a bunch of food. It’s been a crazy ride and it’s been amazing to see.

Michelle Winnett:
That’s awesome. Just a few more questions if you have a little bit more time. How has technology helped you to meet your own goals and vision for Feed the West? Which like apps and tools are you using to kind of get the word out there and to try to cultivate those partnerships?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah. So for us in the beginning, technology was great on the volunteer side. Like folks can sign up on. We use When I Work now. We also use Google forms of course. We use SurveyMonkey. And then our tech person has been Seun of Grid Principles. She’s helped us with a lot of systems, again, Nigerian, black owned business, graphic design, and web stuff.

Shauntrice Martin:
So that has been great on the volunteer side. But what we found on the resident side are folks getting groceries from us is that technology can often be a barrier because a lot of people don’t have a computer or don’t have internet access, especially with COVID. You can’t go to the library or McDonald’s to get the Wi-Fi.

Shauntrice Martin:
And so what we’ve been doing is using technology to help us get the materials that we need for those folks. So we use technology on our volunteer app so that we can say, “Hey, we need at least 20 flyers in this place at this time because it looks like a lot of residents in this area based on our surveys don’t have internet access. So they’re going to need printed flyers. They’re going to need a phone number to call.” So being able to set up those things so that we are not making the mistake of a lot of organizations, which is relying too much on social media.

Shauntrice Martin:
So we’ve been able to segment our communication for our residents. We focus a lot on in-person stuff, canvassing, being places where they already are like a LG&E or like a water company, the post office, grocery stores, obviously so we can hand out a physical flier in a COVID safe way. But technology has been able to supplement those efforts and it’s been really great.

Shauntrice Martin:
I’m working with a couple techies from my days in Silicon Valley to develop some more robust systems for when the grocery store opens. But it’s been really good to see folks reach out who are willing to help us push this forward. And I’ll shout out to, even though it’s not necessarily a tech company per se, but Canva has been amazing. We use it for our graphics and we do not have the time and capacity to do as much as we want to do. But having Canva has been great because it allows us to make a quick graphic that still looks professional and nice, and is in the right colors and everything. But it also means that we’re able to teach our interns and our youth volunteers some skills with graphic design and promotion through Canva because they can make a free account.

Shauntrice Martin:
I mean, we have a paid account as an organization, but it’s something. It’s a transferable skill. It’s a portable skill that in other internships, they’re just expected to get coffee. But with Change Today Change Tomorrow they’re doing things that are going to make them excellent entrepreneurs in the future or non-profit leaders. So it’s been good to leverage technology in that way.

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