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Give and Take: A Behind-the-Scene Look at Prosek Partners’ Food Drive for Sterling House Community Center

Jake Daubenspeck  Follow

For the past several years, Prosek Partners has hosted a Thanksgiving Food Drive for Sterling House Community Center in Stratford, Connecticut. In the past four years, the Drive has raised $7,250 to fund Thanksgiving dinners for those who are less fortunate. Unboxed Thoughts sat down with Prosek’s Jake Daubenspeck, who leads the annual Food Drive effort, for the following interview.

What’s the Thanksgiving Food Drive all about?

The Thanksgiving Food Drive is one of the big ways that the firm gives back to the local community during the holiday season. Thanksgiving is one of the biggest holidays of the year for us at Prosek (check our Instagram account for signs of our celebrations) and we want to do all we can to make sure it’s a shared experience with those around us. Along with other holiday initiatives we have – like our winter coats donation project or Christmas presents drive – it’s our way to help local families during the time of year when many need it most.

How has this initiative grown over the years?

The Thanksgiving Food Drive was a staple of Prosek’s Connecticut office for many years. Starting in the late 2000’s, a former colleague of mine led the charge of raising money and collecting nonperishable food donations for boxes of food that were donated to a local special needs service center.

Every year the office got together to make baskets filled with everything needed for a family to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast. We raised money and donated food items over the course of November, which culminated in a basket-making event where we packaged everything together in decorated boxes for eventual delivery just before the big day.

As Prosek grew over the years, so too did the drive’s results. A few years ago, it really just exploded out of nowhere. Typically, we focused the fundraiser in our Connecticut office, since Sterling House serves the greater Bridgeport CT region. As the years went on, folks from across our other offices – New York City, Boston, etc. – started getting involved too. I was floored to see people who didn’t even live in CT chasing me down to make a donation. We even had contributions from our London colleagues, who don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving!

What about the nonprofit? Why Sterling House?

At a recent Sterling House event, a local restaurant owner showed up to donate food for volunteers. He was inspired to donate because he himself had, years ago, been a recipient of a Sterling House Thanksgiving meal. At the time, his family had fallen into a financial hardship and they did not have the means to celebrate the holiday. Thankfully, his family recovered and years later, they would go on to open their own restaurant, which now sits down the street from Sterling House.

This is the type of impact that Sterling House has on the local community – helping those in need so they can hopefully be in the position one day to give back themselves. So many families in and around the Stratford area have benefitted from this community center. Maybe they’ve had their kids go through the youth sports programs, or attend summer camp or preschool. Maybe they purchase their Christmas tree from Sterling House, or have attended one of their dozens of classes, or participated in a community clean-up day. Or, maybe they’ve benefitted from the resource connection program for food, school supplies, and personal care items.

Knowing all the good that comes out of the organization, it just feels great to be a part of that community engagement in some small ways. One of the best days of the year for me is the Monday/Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when I drop off Prosek’s donation to Sterling House Executive Director Amanda Meeson and the rest of the staff.

Are there any challenges in running the drive?

In public relations, we talk a lot about “happy problems” – issues that occur due to a flurry of successful results all landing at once. An executive getting double-booked for two great live TV appearances – that creates a problem (having to flake on one opportunity), but it’s a “happy” one. That sort of thing.

I learned a lot about “happy problems” in 2015, when the outpouring of support for the Thanksgiving Food Drive was nearly too much to handle. Back then, we were donating physical baskets of food. We decorated cardboard boxes and stuffed them with $50 worth of nonperishable food items and gift cards. We planned on making 10-12 baskets that year, but – “happy problem” – ended up with more than twice as many donations as anticipated.

I didn’t realize at the time that creating 25 baskets of food would be such a difficult task, and it wasn’t until I started buying the food itself that I realized what I had gotten myself into. With 20 items going into each basket, we needed to purchase about 500 individual canned and boxed food items. We also needed to come up with a dozen extra cardboard boxes and other extra materials so we could make the actual baskets.

Several shopping trips (we cleaned out multiple stores) and many hours of crafting later, we somehow got the project done. We only had two evenings in which to gather and assemble the baskets – not to mention deliver the baskets themselves, which required a small fleet of vehicles to carry – but somehow, we got it all done.

In subsequent years, we’ve focused more on raising funds for Sterling House’s food pantry. This allows us to focus less on constructing baskets and more on raising money. This also makes the donations go further; as a nonprofit, Sterling House can purchase food at wholesale prices not accessible to consumers and get more bang for the buck. 2015 is a great memory, but I don’t think anyone minds not having to go through that again!

What have you learned through the process?

The Thanksgiving Baskets project is an annual reminder to me of the quality of the people that I work with. I am truly blown away every year by the generous spirit of my colleagues across the firm. Managing this project every November gets me in the holiday spirit of community and charity and reminds me the importance of giving back not just during the holidays, but throughout the year via other Prosek Give Back initiatives.

I’ve also developed an appreciation of those involved in nonprofit work. The results that Sterling House generates through this project are truly stunning. They employ a skeleton crew (they have just seven full-time staffers) and every single person there wears so many hats and creates so much value for the organization.

As successful as this project is for Sterling House, it’s just one of countless initiatives they put on every holiday season and every year. I have been working with them for four years on this project and the results they’re able to generate are mind-blowing. I still don’t know how they do it.

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