Executive Director’s Report
Director’s Report / February 20, 2022
This past month has been another one for the books and we are looking forward as we review the past few weeks since we last met:
- The Eugene Polar Plunge at the Willamette River was a huge success this weekend and a fundraiser for the Oregon Special Olympics. Many of our Program Participants and Supported Staff took part in this “freezing for a reason” event, and were joined by staff and families and we were delighted when the judges award “The Reality Kitchen Dough Getters” a magnificent trophy and the honor of being selected as the Best Costume Award !
- We welcome our new Board Secretary, K. Daniels to our team ! She has already settled into her position and has quickly shown a level of competency, commitment and skill that we are needing at this important time for our organization. She is very familiar with and has personally supported our Mission over the years, as well. K is one of the moms of a Program Participant and we are so grateful to have her joining us !
- The Employment Path Program Catherine, our Program Director and Shannon, her Program Assistant, will be wrapping up another successful class with two groups of students. They have continued to have field trips to other food service businesses, local farms and gardens, cooking and baking demonstrations that support there in class learning, as well as participate in reopening our Pickup Window each Friday to practice their customer service skills.
- The Reality Kitchen Introduction to Food Service Class Funding Request has moved to the Pre-Application phase of the submission to the Business Oregon team. We have continued to have meetings with the City of Eugene and Lane County Economic Development to complete this important first step in accessing the Community Development Block Grant Funds from the Federal Government. The primary revision is that we will only be able to apply for funding of the first year of this project, but have revamped our proposal to accommodate our needs to build a solid foundation for the future of our three-year program. The good news is that we can apply for more funds ($100,000.00) than we were asking for in Year One of the plan and we will make application to the Oregon Community Foundation for an additional $20,000.00 for a Capital Improvement Grant for additions and repairs to support the Program and front end expansion. Once again, fingers crossed on this one !
- The CSB (Community Supported Baking/Subscription Box Program) Our website developers are busy working on making the changes needed to increase the customer base and retail sales of our baked goods. We are dropping the $50 sign up fee, as well as the requirement that a subscriber must spend $50 each month, and we are giving subscribers the opportunity to choose recurring orders of items. It’s been a labor intensive process dismantling the parts in place already and replacing them with a new method, but we are benefitting from the learning we’ve had so far and it will be more flexible and user friendly in the long run.
- The Great Pie Maker Contest is on hold. We have brought on the lead baker, Kathy, from the recently closed Taylor Street Ovens, a Corvallis bakery that had a similar mission supporting young adults who experience alternate abilities. They developed a large following for their cookies and pies which were marketed to all the Market of Choice locations, Capella and Sundance Markets, as well as the Kiva, locally, and many seasonal farms and groves in the area producing 50 dozen cookies on an average day. The cookies are something we already do on a much smaller scale and have planned to ramp up and expand production that our Supported Staff and Program Participants can be involved with in all phases of production. To that end, we have invested in a convection double stack oven and are already in the “research and development phase” using the same recipes that were popular there and making them our own. We already have a distribution partner ready to take them to market as soon as we are ready.
- Progress on the Outside Seating area has begun with rafters hung and cedar fencing going up to enclose the space for customers to dine outside. More good news, we have found an electrical contractor, J&K Electric, that has begun the initial work of tracing our lines and outlets to determine the paths and upgrades we will need to do on our electrical panel. They will be back in this week to hook up the new convection ovens, as well. Again, the scope of the work includes: 1) a full reboot on the panel box to clearly identify which breakers control what outlets and electrical appliances (a forever challenge) 2) running power to the former music room, now classroom, to have adequate lighting and service without running a network of extension cords to make the room usable 3) additional service to the front end room/demonstration classroom where we will have a demonstration kitchen set up that will be used as both classroom and “studio” to shoot video clips for the online classes we will begin developing once we have realized the funding for the Reality Kitchen Introduction to Food Service Class 4) sufficient electrical service to power six radiant heaters that will hang from the roof of the outside seating area, each unit requiring at least 5000 watts of power. The electrical upgrade will also give us power to light the neon sign and additional lighting and service to make our seating area flexible and useful year round.
- The Return of Retail Sales and Café Service has already been a welcome development and the word has gotten out and is spreading like wildfire. It is limited to one day each week, Friday, and the customer response has been great. As we continue to promote the reopened service window CSB subscribers are coming to pick up their boxes and customers are returning and welcoming us back as we serve a limited menu and selection of coffee drinks along with our popular soups and a selection of outstanding cheesecakes made by our Program Participants and pies and other treats and food items.
- Our decision to reduce some of the wholesale accounts was difficult but a necessary step we have chosen to take to allow for the growth we are planning for in other directions that remain closer to our Mission. This choice was made to reduce some of the costs in time, money and energy and stress that produce little return and allow us the room to grow into the areas where we can increase our income with retail sales in the Community Supported Baking and café offerings as we remain focused on our growing student programming. We have retained a significant number of wholesale accounts and will continue to monitor this and respond to the impact of this decision in the weeks and months ahead. The most difficult part of this has been separating from many food service businesses that have depended on our quality products, many over years of long term partnerships in serving what our shared customers have come to depend on as the best product in our community. They have remained along for the ride with us through many ups and downs, pandemic closure and static re-openings and we have been grateful for support and commitment to our Mission as a nonprofit organization, but more importantly, their personal friendship over the years.
- We have continued to expand our catering opportunities and food service to Unhoused and Food Insecure Neighbors and Residents with Chef Rob Sigmund joining our team. We have been delivering between 10 and 20 meals twice a day/ five days a week to one Covid Respite Care Unit and have been asked to work with another similar group to serve up to 50 individuals. We have also partnered with Bent Spoke Outreach preparing and serving more than 100 hot meals a week, as well as producing 8 to 10 gallons of delicious soups that are served to Unhoused and Food Insecure individuals in our community. This effort is still funded by donations and we will need to expand our outreach to increase our ability to continue this indefinitely.
As we have stated in the past, we have every right to be optimistic about the way forward we have charted and are focused on and remain grateful for our entire staff and team, who continue to create opportunities for our organization to be successful in our Mission.