Changing Lives While Learning:
Crossing Paths with Crossroads Urban Center
By Jennifer Rose
Crossroads Urban Center does a lot with a little. Located in a small brick building near downtown Salt Lake City, the nonprofit organization provides services to low-income, disabled, and minority Utahns. In addition to offering a food pantry and thrift store, the center acts as a key element in founding service organizations around the valley.
Though small in stature, Crossroads leaves a large footprint behind. In 2002, more than 77,500 people from 27,000 households benefited from the center's food pantry: 29 percent were children, 46 percent had no income, and 17 percent were homeless. Since its formation in 1966, the center has dipped its fingers in numerous humanitarian pies, such as founding the organizations Utahns Against Hunger, J.E.D.I. Women (Justice, Economic Dignity, and Independence for Women), and the Children's Literacy Project; it has also helped establish the Utah Food Bank, the Odyssey House, and YMCA's Women in Jeopardy Program. The list goes on, and though numbers appear impressive on paper, the sight of a well-fed child or recovered drug addict makes the biggest impact.
Assistant Professor of Management Stephen Hurlbut has followed Crossroads for years and holds its objectives in high respect. This semester, the students in his Management 485 class will make one of the Crossroads' ambitions a reality by developing a food cooperative business plan for the center, a plan that incorporates donated services and lower priced food on a regular basis.
Embracing the best of both worlds, Hurlbut wants to add the food cooperative to the center's list of community offerings and see the results of his class's work. The food co-op plan stems from the center's need to serve more people on a regular basis. Crossroads runs a food pantry that provides three-day emergency food baskets to families in need, but sometimes the pantry runs out of food. Then where do the hungry go? When Hurlbut arrived on the scene originally to discuss food taxes, center director Glenn Bailey mentioned their problem and a food cooperative as a possible solution. With years of business planning experience behind him, Hurlbut grasped the problem and offered the means to that solution. A food co-op charges for food (though at a greatly reduced price) instead of handing it out for free as a pantry does, but it lets an underprivileged population eat on a regular basis.
For years Hurlbut's management classes have taken on projects that benefit the community: a capital budgeting plan for the YWCA, a strategic plan for Life Care Senior Services, and a strategic analysis of membership and recruiting for the Utah Nurses Association are just some of their undertakings. "I'm a big believer in using projects in the community to reinforce classroom learning," said Hurlbut. "Students like to test what they know, and they definitely like to do something that they think will have a use."
Hurlbut knew that Crossroad's food co-op idea would offer his students a hands-on experience to augment the classroom, as well as a real-world, eye-opening experience working to provide a way to feed the hungry, homeless, and needy. In December, the students will present the center's staff with a plan that tells them what they need, how to start, and what problems to watch out for when running a food co-op. The plan will act as a detailed "how-to" document, and the better the plan, the more people it can affect.
Still in the early part of the semester, the students are in the beginning stages of research. They work in groups and study the various aspects of running a food co-op: how to set one up, and what the center needs in terms of warehouses, trucks, and suppliers. Later in the semester, team research will become more specific as students talk to food wholesalers and set up accounting programs and financial plans.
"It's challenging, but we've been looking at models from other states that run food co-ops, and they've been successful," said accounting student and class member Christine Buckner ('03). "I've learned a lot about food co-ops and about starting a business."
In September, the students got out of the classroom and visited Crossroads at its 3rd South and 4th East location in Salt Lake. "I think they were quite surprised to see how little Crossroads has. It is used to doing a lot on nothing. I think that made a big impression with the students," said Hurlbut.
Buckner agrees. "[The tour] gave me an idea of the magnitude of Crossroads. I was amazed at how many people they serviced. The food pantry seemed small, but they serve a lot of people."
By working on the food co-op plan, the management students will acquire not only academic knowledge, but the experience of helping others through their work. "It's a frustration of students everywhere: they read the book, and they feel like they understand it. Then they get their first job, and they're not sure they know how to do it," said Hurlbut. "I want 25 students at the end of this class to say they understand this and they can do it."
When the management students hand off their food cooperative business plan to Crossroads, the center will begin to implement the plan, possibly for a spring or summer 2004 launch, giving people the opportunity to buy lower priced food on a regular basis. A hard-pressed population will benefit, and Westminster students will benefit as well, according to Hurlbut. "I think what excites the students is not only the chance to test what they know, but to do something for a larger social good and to feel like they're contributing."