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Life and Work with Emily Stromquist

Today we’d like to introduce you to Emily Stromquist.

Emily, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina and attended a small liberal arts college. After graduation, I completed an internship with Desire Street Ministries in New Orleans, Louisiana, which developed my ambition to promote social justice and serve those in difficult economic circumstances. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina brought my time in New Orleans to an abrupt end. I lost almost all of my material belongings, as well as my plans for what I thought was going to be my future. I moved back home to South Carolina and began working in the corporate world doing software administration.

During this time, I gained valuable business experience and insight into management. My corporate experience continued after moving to Colorado in 2006 and getting married in 2007. However, I stepped back from working full-time after having my first child in 2010. This break gave me an opportunity to evaluate my true passions and goals. My ultimate dream was to use my business knowledge to make a positive impact on the surrounding community.

In 2014, I was given the opportunity to pursue that dream. While working part-time in administration for my church, the idea surfaced for a program addressing childhood hunger in Adams County. It began as a research project but developed into an independent 501(c)3 organization with the mission of providing vital nutrition to children in need. Food for Hope quickly became into what I jokingly refer to as “my third child”. I vividly remember receiving the first financial contribution of $100. Then, another came in for $360. Then another family generously gave $10,000 to help get Food for Hope started! It was the moment I realized that we may actually be able to build a nonprofit that could work closely with members of the community to help children in Adams County. The last five years have been a challenge, balancing having young children and an increasingly demanding job. However, I feel grateful to be in a position where I can use both my strengths and passion to create a better future for the kids we serve.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I left college feeling very certain of the path I wanted to take. I was going to live in New Orleans, work in a business-oriented career, and invest any extra time volunteering with Desire Street Ministries in the Ninth Ward. After only three months of living this vision, Hurricane Katrina hit the city. I lost my job and everything I owned. I had to evacuate quickly and was unable to say good-bye to the people with whom I had connected. Everything I thought I wanted was stripped away, so I moved back home to start over again. Within a couple of months, I got a job at a large electronics company as a software administrator. At the time, it felt like I was “giving in” to the corporate job I always said I would avoid. I was discouraged and felt like a failure. Looking back, I am able to see that starting that career path lead me valuable work experience that built the foundation of knowledge and confidence I would need to pursue my dream at a later time.

Starting a nonprofit organization was (and still is) and incredibly challenging endeavor. I turned down the opportunity for another full-time job in order to build the vision of Food for Hope. Since I wasn’t making any money for the first year, I couldn’t justify the cost of childcare for my daughters who were 1 and 3 at the time. Therefore, I had to bring them along with me or work from home while they were napping. Eventually, though, Food for Hope began to gain momentum. And I was able to find volunteers to help with tasks that were difficult for me to do alone. Choosing to start this organization wasn’t the easy road, but it has been incredibly rewarding and life-giving for me.

I would encourage younger women to take advantage of opportunities made available to them, even if it isn’t what they envisioned for that point in their life. You never know what valuable knowledge or experience you will gain from that job or task. Also, when given the chance, be brave enough to choose the path that moves you towards an occupation that feeds your passion and brings you joy. Others may not understand your decision, and they may encourage you to choose something more lucrative or stable. However, doing a job that you truly love is an uncommon privilege, so work hard and claim that joy for yourself.

Please tell us about Food for Hope.
I am the Executive Director of Food for Hope. The vision of this organization came from Pastor Ruben Villarreal of ThornCreek Church and Thornton Mayor Heidi Williams. In 2014, they chose to entrust me with their vision. Starting Food for Hope quickly became my passion project, and eventually turned into a job. Becoming aware of the need, filling out the labor-intensive 501(c)3 paperwork, and depositing the first donation checks engraved the mission deeply into my heart. (And, eventually, on my skin, since I got a tattoo of the Food for Hope logo on the first anniversary of our first food distribution.)

The mission of Food for Hope is to empower and nourish the future of our community by providing vital nutrition to children in need. Our programs provide food to school-age students who are underfed and experiencing food insecurity. Children who are not receiving adequate nutrition cannot be expected to perform well in social or academic settings. It is our hope that the supplemental food we provide will allow students to find success both in and out of the classroom. Instead of a traditional food bank, which requires families to come to a particular location, we deliver nutritional assistance directly to schools. From there, students can take food home for evenings or weekends. This method of food distribution sets us apart from other food assistance organizations in the area. Food for Hope is the only independently funded school food program in Adams County.

I am extremely proud of the ways the community has rallied around Food for Hope in the five years we have been in existence. We do not pursue government funding, so the development of our programs has been a grassroots effort. Due to support from businesses, clubs, individuals, and churches in Adams County, we have grown to serve over 2,000 students at 15 schools every week during the school year. In what I see as our most exciting endeavor yet, we are opening a food bank within Northglenn High School in the upcoming school year. Through this location, we will be able to help students at Northglenn, as well as any student or family identified as homeless in the Adams 12 Five Star School District.

Do you think there are structural or other barriers impeding the emergence of more female leaders?
While I do feel like there is progress being made, women still have to work harder than men to become dynamic leaders in any industry. Gender stereotypes still label women as “emotional” or “unstable” and, as a result, unable to manage others well. Females are also seen as having stronger ties to home life and raising children. Often it is interpreted that women cannot balance maternal responsibilities with expectations for their performance at work. Women have to work harder to show that they are committed to their professional goals, while it is assumed that men don’t have similar distractions.

Along with these challenges, is the barrier of wage equality. Women are bending over backwards to show that they can be successful professionally, and then only getting paid 2/3 of the salary a man is receiving to do the same job. This issue is getting more publicity (i.e. the US Women’s Soccer team), but it is going to take transparency and accountability across the board for anything to change.

I hope that my daughters will be able to look back on these barriers as things of the past when they pursue their occupations one day. It will take women of the current generation working together to see that we are moving toward a change in the direction of equality.

Pricing:

  • It costs $180 to feed one child for an entire school year.

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