Social Enterprises Find New Ways to Serve During Coronavirus Pandemic

Image via Freedom a la Cart's Facebook Page

It’s long been said that the only thing constant in life is change, and nowhere is that adage more true than in small business and entrepreneurship. But even by usual standards, the changes thrust upon Central Ohio small businesses and nonprofits over the past month have been extraordinary., 

Government stay at home orders, the closing of bars and restaurants, and social-distancing limits have exacted a toll on businesses big and small, forcing everyone from CEOs to start-up entrepreneurs to pivot, rapidly and sometimes radically changing their approach in order to stay afloat, remain viable, and maintain their cash flow.

SocialVentures wanted to learn more about how Central Ohio social enterprises are adjusting to business in the time of coronavirus, so we visited with the founders of POINT app, Freedom a la Cart, and Roosevelt Coffee Roasters to learn how they’re managing this new normal.


POINT

If necessity is the mother of invention, then there’s nothing quite like a pandemic to push entrepreneurs toward innovation. At volunteer app POINT, Founder and CEO Madison Mikhail Bush says she and her team had long-been contemplating the implementation of in-app donations, but the project was time-intensive and costly. Enter COVID-19.

“The day Gov. Dewine announced the order putting social distancing in place, our team stayed up for 21 straight hours and added the capability for in-app donations,” Bush says.

Allowing users to donate easily and simply while already in the app appeals to POINT’s primary customer base of Millennials and Gen-Z’ers. POINT already has rolled out its first new fundraising campaign, partnering with Aunt Flow to raise $100,000 in order to make 100,000 masks.

Things are moving quickly, Bush says, launching a donation platform one week, and starting a $100,000 fundraising campaign the next.

Among the other changes POINT has navigated in the past month: scrapping plans to launch POINT in Austin, Texas after a six-month campaign to kick-start things in that market.

“I was in Florida, ready to get on a plane for Austin,” Bush recalls, and governors around the country began announcing closures and social-distancing measures. 

POINT’s primary partners – nonprofits – are facing challenges, too. Especially, Bush says, food banks. Most food bank volunteers are older, and as a result, volunteerism has plummeted. POINT is trying to do its part to mobilize its younger user base to serve, but it hasn’t been easy. 

Food insecurity, financial insecurity – both are issues right now, according to Bush, so much so that the governor has mobilized the National Guard to help food banks where volunteerism has plummeted.

“We need volunteers badly,” Bush says. “Food banks need them badly. There’s a real need for help.” 

For more information, visit pointapp.org.

Freedom a la Cart

Nearly all business owners and entrepreneurs have at least one common worry in this new environment: their employees.

For social entrepreneurs like Paula Haines of catering company Freedom a la Cart, those worries are magnified because her employees—women who are human-trafficking survivors—not only depend on her company for employment, but also a variety of supportive services to help them in their journeys toward recovery.

In the past month, Haines moved quickly to re-orient Freedom’s product offerings and price points, and although she’s been forced to reduce hours for a handful of employees, no layoffs have been required. 

Haines has managed to keep her workforce intact with a combination of changes and new initiatives.

“We’ve kind of re-created some products to meet the needs of new and existing customers,” explained Haines. Instead of Freedom’s customary $11 or $12 gourmet box lunches, they’re now selling simplified sack meals, which include a simple sandwich, cookie, and apple slices, to churches and nonprofits that are then providing the meals to vulnerable populations, including children, seniors, and the homeless.

The company has also developed a $70 Freedom Family Pack, with mini-quiches, pastries, four different sandwiches, chips, a container of salad (think potato or macaroni, not greens), and cookies. Everything is made from scratch and includes delivery.

The social enterprise caterer has also dropped its minimum catering order from $100 to $50 and will deliver with any $50 order.

In addition to adjustments on product and price, Haines says they’ve also kicked off a fundraiser to help other human trafficking survivors, and the funds raised from that initiative are allowing them to provide about 700 meals a week.

According to Haines, Freedom’s changes aren’t just customer-facing. They’ve making numerous internal changes to support their employees as well.

“The CDC and other experts in our community say that those who are recovering from addiction are even more vulnerable,” Haines says. “Those with trauma, in this time of anxiety, our focus is on how to keep them working, how to keep the kinds of structure where they’re coming to work and can say, ‘I’ve got a place to go in the midst of all this.’”

Initially, Haines says company leaders struggled with the tension between how do you allow employees to “distance” while also giving them support? How do they connect them with resources, Haines wondered, when everything is virtual right now.

Among the solutions so far: Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have been instituted at work, and employees can participate in the meetings as a part of their work day. Anything, Haines says, to provide support.

For more information, visit freedomalacart.org.

Roosevelt Coffee Roasters

Kenny Sipes, owner of Roosevelt Coffeehouse and Roosevelt Coffee Roasters, could probably use a good cup of coffee. 

His coffeehouse, he says, “is flat shutdown.” He closed both his location Downtown on Long Street and his shop in Franklinton on Broad Street, on March 19. He was able to pay his employees for whatever hours they were scheduled, so most were still able to get their regular paychecks through Friday, April 10. 

And his landlords have been gracious, he says, indicating that no lease payments are due again until June 1. Initially, Sipes said, he hoped to stay open. But on the “Day After,” sales dropped 70%. They were down 70% on days two and three as well. And the more Sipes thought about it, the more he felt that in the midst of a pandemic, closing entirely was the most ethical, safest thing to do, for both his customers and his employees.

But despite the coffeehouse closing, Sipes has managed to stay busy. Thanks, in part, to a call from POINT’s Bush early in the crisis. 

“She called me up at 10:30 at night and said, ‘I have an idea,’” Sipes recalls. “Why don’t you provide coffee to help healthcare professionals? Well, I’m a morning guy, so I was like, ‘I can’t process this right now.’”

The next morning, the processing began. From that suggestion, and a conversation among a group of friends, was born a now-viral and quintessentially Columbus campaign called, “We’re All In This Together,” of which Roosevelt is a part. The initiative raised more than $150,000 to meet community needs and “comfort those at risk.” 

The funds helped Roosevelt’s roasting operation to provide bags at volume to places like Faith Mission, ensuring every vulnerable person visiting the mission got a hot cup of coffee and that Roosevelt received funds to sustain its operations.

Of course, there was that initial late-night suggestion from Bush, too.

To date, Roosevelt has provided 866 bags of coffee to healthcare workers and hospital staffs in Central Ohio as a result of the idea, which offers Central Ohioans two ways to help.

First, customers can purchase any regularly priced bag of Roosevelt Coffee—typically $15 to $20—for themselves (or a healthcare worker), and Roosevelt will donate a healthcare bag as well. Or, customers can buy a specially-priced healthcare bag of coffee for just $9, and Sipes donates the bag directly to healthcare workers on the buyers’ behalf. 

Still, despite the fundraising initiative and the healthcare worker coffee drive, Sipes’ roasting operation is operating at about 25% of usual capacity because most of the coffee shops that typically buy his product are currently closed.

“We’re doing the best we can under the circumstances,” Sipes said. “But it’s still really tough.”

For more information, visit rooseveltcoffee.org.

About SocialVentures

Founded in 2014, SocialVentures is a non-profit organization that advances remarkably good businesses—businesses that intentionally integrate social impact as a non-negotiable component of their business model. To contact SocialVentures, send an email to info@socialventurescbus.com or visit socialventurescbus.com.