Out of a Jam: A Fort Wayne nonprofit shares its COVID-19 survival story

I am Paula Kaufman, and my husband and I founded the nonprofit Out of a Jam in May 2016.

It was not the first business we have started together; we have been serial entrepreneurs for the past 40 years. Since marrying in 1976, we launched our first businesses in the 1980s, combining our skills and hobbies to start several small companies, manufacture home decor, and build vacation homes.

But our vision as entrepreneurs took a different direction in the 2000s. When the housing market crashed in 2008 and our home décor empire started falling, we began to see how quickly poverty can overtake even a very successful family, and we experienced a taste of how millions of families were living “at risk” lives every day—with little to no hope of a better future.

Out of a Jam helps women find sustainable sources of employment.

As such, we wanted to find a way to help. Our solution? We founded Out of a Jam in 2016 to help women earn skills and certifications that can be used to find sustainable employment and feed their families better. We currently have three programs, and one in development.

Our first initiative, Essentials, is an eight-week course where high school students are introduced to the basics of cooking. By the end of the program, students are equipped with Serv Safe™ certifications that allow them to enter the workforce well prepared. After finishing Essentials, students can work for the JAMM Food Truck, where they learn food skills in real time.

Shop Cook & Eat™ is an interactive cooking demonstration intended for busy moms. This program teaches moms how to plan, prep, and prepare good food for their families in 30 minutes or less while also reducing their cooking budget by 15-20 percent.

Our newest program, Out of a Jam Food Rescue (still in development), is intended to rescue food from large event centers, company cafeterias, grocery stores, farmers, and more, repurposing it to meet the hunger needs of children in underserved parts of Fort Wayne.

The JAMM Food Truck helps women learn food industry skills in real-time.

While our nonprofit has operated successfully for four years now, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Fort Wayne, we found ourselves in a jam, so to speak. The pandemic began as we were preparing to roll out our food truck for the summer. Although cash flow was at a seasonal low, bookings were in place and expectations for the spring season were high. Then, the cancellations began.

Like a lot of other small for-profit and nonprofit organizations, we found our resilience being tested during the pandemic, and we honestly were not sure how things were going to turn out. But with the help of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s quick response in helping us access the Small Business Associations crisis funding programs, we have found ways to keep Out of a Jam going, and we are learning new ways of connecting with potential donors.

This funding has made it possible for us to get our employee’s back to work. With typical food truck events shuttered, we have found success in serving in neighborhoods, businesses, and health care facilities.  Our philosophy is: Go where the people are. And it works! We are busier than ever before, and this year’s events are averaging higher returns that last year’s.

As we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, we recognize that other nonprofits need assistance, too. We feel called to help them survive by sharing our experiences in these blogs, just as other friends and companies helped us. Our mission of helping equip women has not changed; it has broadened. And we cannot wait to see what God had planned for us next.

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