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In Good Company

In Good Company: An Employment Social Enterprise Partnership that Works

San Francisco Bay Area social enterprises discover common ground and shared purpose in delivering nutritious meals to wildland firefighters

In June 2022, 150 employment social enterprise leaders in the REDF Community gathered for their first in-person retreat in three years. Over the course of a week in Portland, Oregon, social entrepreneurs connected with peers, learned from one another, and celebrated being in good company.

For three of these leaders, in particular, the retreat offered the chance to make a connection that produced a common purpose:

Farming Hope, a current REDF grantee and borrower, operates a garden-to-table paid job training program for San Franciscans who have experienced incarceration and homelessness.  Their paid employment program helps adults transition to personal well-being and employment while nourishing food-insecure neighbors.

Piikup, a REDF Accelerator Alum, is a socially responsible delivery service with a business model designed to educate and elevate its workforce and provide training for people breaking through barriers to employment.

Forestry & Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP), a REDF Accelerator Alum, is a training and employment program dedicated to increasing wildfire personnel from non-traditional and underrepresented communities by providing the specialized training, skills, resources, and experiences needed to secure gainful employment.

The leaders of these organizations participate year-round in the REDF Community BIPOC Affinity Group – a space for entrepreneurs of color to connect and share resources – and were seated near each other at a group dinner held during the retreat. Between introductions, catching up, and comparing notes, the leaders soon realized that they had a unique opportunity to leverage their strengths and support one another’s businesses and employees.

Vowing to “make it happen,” they returned home and, shortly thereafter, launched a food production and delivery partnership to support 30 FFRP firefighters throughout their intensive training program.

“That’s what’s really wonderful about the REDF in-person events,” explains Andie Sobrepeña, Co-executive Director of Farming Hope. “You just get to have conversations with people and see what else is out there, see how workforce development and social enterprises are being used in such different ways across the country and then build networks locally, too.

A healthy working partnership

Andie and April with a weekly delivery of fresh, healthy meals

Healthy meals are prepared by Farming Hope employees, which are then delivered on time from San Francisco to Oakland by Piikup, and the nutritious meals are served to trainees at FFRP.

“We were off and running in like a week’s time,” explains April, Executive Director, Founder, and CEO of Piikup. “It took intentionality for us to do this. We were really focused on finding a way that we could further each other’s work.”

In addition to the job training benefits, the partnership shared the belief that introducing fresh, local ingredients into the diets of FFRP trainees provides an opportunity for them to learn more about the importance of a healthy diet. Due to cost constraints, FFRP trainees often turn to fast food lunches, which do not provide the nutrition required for active, challenging work. All meals supplied by Farming Hope include locally grown, healthy ingredients designed to meet the nutritional needs of firefighting trainees.

The collaboration has had many positive impacts. Each enterprise has built on its strengths, and they’ve been able to get to know each others’ programs much better to support one another, including being able to connect people to these partner organizations for different job avenues.

FFRP trainees enjoying a lunch prepared by Farming Hope

“The cross referrals from our programs have definitely been the big bonus and a chance for people to understand how each of our organizations is serving different folks who might also be within the same network or communities,” says Cari Pang Chen, Bay Area Director of the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program. “Everyone has a role to play in helping to strengthen or improve our communities.”

The employees have also been inspired by the partnership to make a positive impact on their community.

“For those coming through our program,” explains Andie Sobrepeña, “knowing that they’re cooking food for people who are in similar situations as them or knowing they can give back and be able to nourish their community has been really positive.”

Currently, the partnership provides 30 meals one time a week at a cost of $420. With a proven partnership and deep benefits for the community as a whole, Farming Hope, Piikup, and FFRP leaders are looking to expand and extend this work with additional funding.

Social entrepreneurs in the REDF Community like Andie, Cari, and April are in good company with one another – and their connections and partnerships move us ever closer to realizing our vision of an economy that works. For everyone.

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