My cousin, Leola Daul, has been nominated as one of Cass County YWCA’s 2017 Women of the Year.
While I don’t live in Cass County I do know my cousin and, from my perspective, being nominated and being the Woman of the Year amount to pretty much the same thing when it comes to Leola.
Or, as I have known her as my entire life: Lola.
My cousin Lola is named after my Mom’s mother – Leola.
Or, as she was called, Grandma Lola.
It’s been far too many years since Grandma Lola left us.
While my memories of her sometimes need prodding by pictures of her time with us, or the stories shared by my Mom, there’s no doubt that her spirit has remained strong in her granddaughter, Lola.
I had the opportunity to have dinner with Lola this week while in Fargo. We spent some time catching up as cousins who have not seen one another will do. We asked about one another’s siblings. She about my mom. Me about her dad.
And, then, we spent a fair amount of time talking about Lola’s efforts to create a new paradigm of community engagement through a concept called community cafes.
More specifically, something she has come to call the “Heart-N-Soul Café.”
If one goes to the website of the “Heart-N-Soul Café” at https://www.facebook.com/HeartnSoulCommunityCafe/ they will find the purpose and mission of the café described this way:
“A cafe dedicated to serving local, healthy, delicious meals to everyone in our community with dignity and respect with pay what you can afford pricing.”
Delving further onto the page one learns that “Heart-N-Soul Café” seeks to
– Help eliminate local hunger and food insecurity by creating a bridge between individuals, service groups, schools, the faith community and community agencies
– Eliminate food waste
– Build a healthy community through nutrition and wellness education
– Build a healthy community by providing for the basic need of food in a respectful and dignified manner to anyone who walks through the door.
It is an irony, to be sure, that deep in the rich soil of the Red River Valley that there is any sense that the people of this region would be hungry.
Yet, in a factoid presented on ”Heart-N-Soul Café’s” Facebook page it is estimated that there are over 630,000 people who experience food insecurity in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Of those nearly 21,000 live in Cass and Clay counties.
The combined population of the two counties is a little over 233,000 residents. Which means that nearly 10% of the population experience food insecurity.
The definition of “food insecurity?”
“The state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.”
Lola has a vision. One in which community “pop-up” cafes will dot North Dakota and Minnesota and elsewhere providing people access to affordable, nutritious food.
It’s a big vision. One that won’t come easily or without an investment of resources by those who embrace her vision of giving to the community by being of the community.
Five years ago, I became the Executive Director of Spare Key. I did not begin this organization. That hard work was done by our founders, Robb and Patsy Keech, twenty years ago in the kitchen of their home.
For fifteen years prior to my arrival Spare Key had been built, managed, nudged along, kept alive and above the waterline by others before me.
The organization had a pulse. It didn’t require someone to put it all together.
Lola is embarking on something from nothing.
Yes, it is true there are other community cafes in America.
But to begin one in her community Lola is building it and her vision from the ground up.
I often refer to Minnesota as a place where we have as many non-profits as there are lakes. As someone who works every day with a passionate board of directors and a small, but committed, staff, I admit there are days when it feels pretty challenging in that environment.
I was not, however, the pioneer that blazed the trail to take a non-profit from its beginning to its current form.
Lola is doing that.
Next month Lola will gather together with other nominees for the Cass County YWCA 2017 Women of the Year dinner. She will be joined by other amazing women who give back every single day to the community in which they live, work and make a difference for others.
I know that somewhere in that room will be the spirit of Grandma Lola.
But also of Lola’s Mom, Marlene. A woman who, along with my Uncle Bill, instilled in their children the belief that we are all God’s children and we are all on this Earth to love, care and help one another.
And, as Lola is trying to do: To feed one another.