Tell us about your background. What has led you to this point in your career?
I graduated with my MA in Digital Storytelling from the College of Communication, Information and Media at Ball State University in 2007. I was a server on and off throughout high school, college and in between travels in my twenties. Opportunities continued to present themselves in the hospitality industry, and I eventually became the Events Manager of Event Services and finally General Manager of Food and Beverage for the Events Services Department with the Victoria Theatre Association. When the pandemic reached us, I had recently joined the sales team at Kohler Catering. I have always had an interest in volunteering here and there when time permitted for various events and organizations around the city of Dayton.
How long have you been involved with Miami Valley Meals?
In mid-March of 2020, Chef Matt DeAngulo, my friend and former colleague from Citilites at the Schuster, reached out. We talked about the looming virus and what that meant for our jobs, our friends in the hospitality industry and people who would likely suffer most due to a lack of food and transportation. He asked me if I would join him, along with a few of our former colleagues, in creating a plan to feed our neighbors. Through Set the Banquet Table Board President, Bill Evans, we were connected to the House of Bread, where we would start our Miami Valley Meals story.
What do you love about your job?
I love my team! They are so special with a dedication and work ethic like no other. They genuinely care about each other and are so devoted to their craft and the mission. Love and care is put into everything they do. I feel a tremendous sense of happiness when I am amongst the hustle and bustle of the kitchen or at headquarters when everyone is making things happen. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. I also love that this job allows me to play one small part in taking care of the city that we love.
How are you helping the Dayton community through your work with Miami Valley Meals?
Miami Valley Meal’s focus is “Serving those who serve the hungry.” There are many incredible, established organizations that have been serving our neighbors in need for decades that know their neighborhoods, clientele, opportunities and challenges.
We sought to support these organizations through chef-prepared frozen meals from recovered Food Bank food, free of charge. By serving in this way, we hope to free up some of those organizations' resources so they are better able to address their gaps and increase outreach.
Miami Valley Meals is also part of a larger Community Impact Collaborative called the MVM Coalition which is made up of different organizations that are all strategizing on ways to be most effective when addressing food issues in Dayton. This group has secured funding to support production and distribution of meals in a coordinated and targeted way.
Please check out miamivalleymeals.com to learn more about Miami Valley Meals, the MVM Coalition and how to support our mission.
In what ways is this work fulfilling for you?
There is a sense of purpose and excitement that I wake up with most days. Knowing that we are making an immediate impact on hunger in our community drives that feeling.
It is also fulfilling to be around good people. Many from our team were former colleagues from Citilites at the Schuster. They are talented, creative, caring and deeply motivated people. It is such a pleasure to be back with them and see their talent being used in such a positive way.
What inspired you to create thousands of free Thanksgiving meals?
As the virus spread, it became evident that larger gatherings could not take place and pantries that typically served in a cafeteria setting were not going to happen any time soon. We started brainstorming about how we could expand our outreach and help make Thanksgiving a bit brighter for some of our struggling citizens.
Miami Valley Meals' Thanksgiving distribution is within our wheelhouse but a different approach to our traditional model of serving organizations instead of individuals. An additional 6,000 meals above our regular production is no small feat, but our team and the Lindy’s team at Daybreak (our production partner) were willing to take it on. I am continuously proud of them - they are my Daytonians of the year.
What projects/accomplishments (whether personal or professional) are you especially proud that you’ve accomplished?
I was a member of the Women’s Inaugural Soccer Team at Ball State University, a member of the first class of the Digital Storytelling Master of Arts program in the College of Communication, Information and Media at Ball State University, volunteered early on in the Activated Spaces Pop Up-Project through the Downtown Dayton Partnership, helped open the PNC Arts Annex at the Victoria Theatre Association and am now part of this new model of feeding people by way of Miami Valley Meals. Being a part of many firsts has given me the opportunity to be creative, productive and sometimes bold in unknown spaces. I am fortunate to have made these moves amongst like-minded, supportive friends and colleagues.
Are you involved in the Dayton community in any other way, aside from your work with Miami Valley Meals?
I enjoy volunteering when I can. In years past, my schedule was a bit challenging and volunteering was a bit trickier for me. This year has given me more opportunities to see more of my city.
I have been specifically inspired by the “I Love West Dayton Clean-up” that was arranged and led by Chaz Amos and Dej’za Demmings. I was able to join them a few times and thoroughly appreciated the energy of the group. It’s a wonderful thing to see so many people come together to beautify a space for people to enjoy again.
Aside from volunteering, I try to shop local and promote local when possible. There are so many unique shops, restaurants, bars and artists in Dayton. With the holidays coming, I encourage you to explore what’s in your neighborhood when you are considering your gift list. Between that and donating to local charities, you will be directly helping the people in your city.
What’s been your most recent professional challenge, and how did you push through the challenge?
Miami Valley Meals has grown up fast overnight as a direct result of the pandemic and the growing needs of our city. There have been many unknowns to navigate, as many business owners and non-profits can attest to. The Executive Director role is new to me as well. It is a humbling experience to be new at something, and I am slowly growing to be more forgiving of myself when I make mistakes. If your intentions are positive and you stick to your mission, people will generally give you grace.
How have you had to pivot professionally to cope with challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic?
My background in video production (college) and hospitality has given me a repertoire of experience in adaptability. People from these backgrounds are generally good at on-the-fly problem solving. You pivot, and go, pivot and go - finding what works for you and trying to have some fun along the way. Such is life.
What are your favorite places to grab a bite to eat in the Dayton area?
Since it’s almost lunch, we’ll start there.
Dill pickle soup from Blind Bob’s, Blazin' Buffalo Sandwich from Canal Street Deli, Limp Bizkits & Gravy from Stoney’s Munchie Bar, the Buffalo Chicken Ranchero Pizza from Oregon Express, The Sow from Salt Block Biscuit Co. I also can’t stop thinking about the vegan cookies from Bless me Sweets at the Entrepreneur’s Marketplace. I could go on and on with this topic.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for this year?
I am thankful for so many things!
I am thankful for the incredible patience of my husband, his wonderful cooking and playlist as we unwind over dinner after crazy days. I am thankful for my daughter who makes everything brighter — she is my best friend.
I am thankful for my parents, my family near and far and my friends who are there to remind me what I am capable of when I am down and who love me and support me unconditionally.
I am thankful for Chef Matt DeAngulo for asking me to join him on this endeavor to feed our neighbors and for my Miami Valley Meals team and board who have poured their hearts into this mission.
I am thankful for the Miami Valley Meals partners, supporters and my personal mentors.
I am thankful for health-care workers and science.
Oh, and puppies. Thankful for any and all puppies.
What inspires you about Dayton?
This city has been a place for me to stumble and soar. Places and faces that have accepted me, laughed with me and cheered me up throughout various phases of life and learning. I will forever be inspired by the beauty and strength in our community who have come together to lift each other up in very hard times. I am grateful and will always be a cheerleader of Dayton.