I spent the last year working for the federal government and when I finished my Master’s program in December I decided to head back into the world of nonprofits. I missed the connection to the people I served and the challenges that are unique to the nonprofit sector. I used my network to find a position at a nonprofit here in Chicagoland (by the way, using your network really does work). It turns out there was a position open with The Campus Kitchens at Northwestern University (CKNU), a national project of D.C. Central Kitchen, where I had interned during my undergraduate studies.
Like most new jobs, the first few weeks are a learning process. You figure out how to schedule your days to get everything done, get the hang of your reports, and learn about your coworkers. It seems like the job is going to be a great fit – I am working for an organization and cause that I really believe in. I am using skills I learned from my Master’s program to manage the student leadership team. But, there are a few things that my education couldn’t quite prepare me for…
I should probably start by explaining what it is we do. At CKNU we help fight hunger in our community by rescuing food that would normally be thrown away and turning it into meals. Every day at university dining halls across the country, thousands of pounds of uneaten food gets thrown way (even though it is safe and tasty food). We work with the dining halls at Northwestern University to collect this food and package it into individual and congregate meals. Then, our volunteers deliver the meals and take some time to talk to our clients. The idea is simple, but the results are quite amazing.
So while my education has prepared me to create a budget, manage organizational change, and get buy-in from students and co-workers, there are no Public Administration classes for “working in an industrial kitchen.” Do you know many people a hotel pan of chili feeds (those large pans you see on a hot buffet table)? I certainly didn’t. And I had never attempted the puzzle of fitting an unexpected donation of 100 pounds of deli turkey, 10 hotel pans of pasta, 4 boxes of salads, and 20 cases of yogurt into my Chevy Cruze.
I have a feeling many of us young nonprofit professionals face challenges like these every day at our jobs. These unique challenges are what make us innovative problem solvers and what make our jobs so rewarding at the end of the day. With the help of some good friends and a little patience, we make it through the tough days, and with the help of networks like YNPN, we have some tools to teach us what we might not learn in our traditional education programs. But we have to remember to utilize these networks whether we are looking for a job or just need to learn how many people we can feed with a hotel pan of chili.
Katie Darin has recently become the Coordinator at The Campus Kitchen at Northwestern University, running day-to-day operations. She has previous experience from the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, the Office of U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time you might find Katie enjoying Chicago’s diverse food selections, exploring the Lincoln Square neighborhood, or playing tennis around Chicago!