HACAP and Community Action

Podcast with Chris Ackman

Podcast: HACAP and Community Action

Hacap is a very diverse nonprofit in the community that does a lot of different things from food and nutrition to veteran support and initiatives with children.

In this episode, Chris Ackman talks about HACAP’s Community Action Program and other services HACAP provides to support veterans, children and low income individuals and families in the community.


– Welcome back to the Banowetz Marketing podcast. Today, we have Chris Ackman from HACAP  with us. Hi, Chris.


– Hey, how’s it going?


– Good.


– Thanks for having me.


– Thanks for being on.


– [Announcer] The Banowetz Podcast.


– So tell us a little bit about you personally. So you’ve been with HACAP for four years.


– Right, yeah.


– And prior to that?


– Yup. So before HACAP, I was a production assistant at KGAN in FOX 28, and then before that, I was at the Cedar Rapids convention & Visitors Bureau. I was a marketing intern there and I was an information specialist, so I was kinda the face of Cedar Rapids. It was a really fun job. I got to work at the Visitor’s Center on the weekends. Before that, I graduated from Kirkwood Community College in communications and media. I kinda found out about the opportunity through HACAP from my wife who worked at HACAP at the time as a preschool teacher. HACAP has a pretty robust preschool program called Head Start. I was working at KGAN at the time, kind of had some weird hours. I was working the nightly newscast and then when you just start dating somebody, obviously, you want your schedules to be on sync so she was working at HACAP and the job just came up at the time and she said, “Hey, I think you should apply for this.” and I did and it’s been that ever since so.


– Very awesome. Okay, so I would imagine that almost everyone in Cedar Rapids has heard of HACAP.


– I hope!


– I bet they have, but tell us a little about more about exactly what you guys do do.


– Yeah, so we’re a very diverse nonprofit in the community and we do a lot of different things. Our main strategic initiatives fall under food and nutrition, veteran support, children, as I mentioned a little bit with Head Start, and then we also do some different things, like wick, maternal health, housing, housing stabilization, energy assistance. Those are just a few of the programs that we do. So we really highlight on a lot of different initiatives to really help build stronger communities. We serve low-income individuals. So people who are really in need in the community, all of our services are free to individuals who apply. One of our big things that we do that a lot of people know of is every time there’s a food drive going on, we have the HACAP Food Reservoir, so we have a food bank. That’s one of our big initiatives that we do. Yeah, we put our hands in a lot of different areas so.


– That is awesome. Okay, so HACAP stands for Hawkeye Area–


– Yeah, Community Action Program.


– Community Action Program.


– Yeah.


– Perfect.


– Cool. Hey, Chris, this is June Schmidt here. Having an education background, first of all, as I listen to you talk, A, you’ve already had a really cool career.


– Yeah.


– You’ve gotten to do some really awesome things.


– Yes, I have. Oh gosh, I’m so blessed, yeah.


– Yeah!


– It’s really cool.


– And I think the other part of that too as I listened to you talk is that it’s so easy for us having been, like I said, a teacher to really steer people exclusively into a four-year education. You went to Kirkwood, and I’ve always sung the praises. I was a choir director so that’s kind of a pun, okay?


– I see what you did there.


– But yeah, yeah, yeah.


– Yeah, nice.


– I sung the praises of Kirkwood and having an institution of that nature right here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, so the journey you’ve taken coming from Kirkwood. But tell me, I also tuned in onto the food drive aspect. Are there specific times of year where you do those food drives that we should be aware of and can participate in?


– Yeah, I think some of the big times of need, summer’s always a good time. Winter, around the holiday season, we obviously get a lot of support, but I think probably maybe one, I would say the biggest time actually would probably be around January, February because we’ve hit that big holiday rush. Everybody does stuff for the holidays and then at January and February, it’s like we’re just dead. So we still have needs during that time. That’s always a great time so I would say maybe that January, February, March time is always good. We have some great partnerships and stuff that we do in the summertime as well that help us out with other different organizations. But yeah, that’s kind of the big time is after the holiday season which we definitely very much are grateful for the stuff that we do get during the holiday season but then after that, kinda help fill that gap a little bit.


– Sure.


– And during the summer season, you have Operation BackPack.


– Yes.


– Right?


– Yeah, we do–


– [Sarah] So you’re doing that right now.


– Right, yup.


– So tell us a little bit more about what that is.


– So Operation BackPack, in the summer, we work mainly through Kids on Course through the Zach Johnson Foundation. They help to distribute meals to kids. During the year, it’s a really great program, it’s something that we work with through the Cedar Rapids schools College Community School District where it helps feed kids on the weekend because kids in elementary or even middle school and high school, they’re getting those meals during the week from school but then on the weekend, they might not have stuff. Operation BackPack, it’s a bag, it’s not very big. It’s big enough for kids to put in their backpack with individual food items that are not too heavy for them to carry and we send those home with those kids who are part of the program every weekend. They’re discretely put into the backpacks of these kids who are in need of the food and then they have that food for the weekend.


– Awesome.


– That’s good. So Chris, you’ve talked about being involved with Cedar Rapids community schools, talked about in being involved with college community schools, really talk to us about the area that HACAP encompasses here.


– Yeah. We encompass a pretty big area. We serve Eastern Iowa. So Linn County, Jones County, Washington County, Johnson County, and Benton County are the main counties that we serve.


– That’s a big territory!


– It is, yeah, and there are many different community action agencies across the state so we take the East Central Iowa area and portion of it. And we’re doing a lot of different things. Like I mentioned, those Head Start sites. We have Head Start sites and centers in all of those counties and we also do a Mobile Food Pantry which tries to hit more of the rural areas like in Benton County, Jones County, rather than just the Cedar Rapids area and the Iowa City area. Yeah, we have buildings, we have a lot of different locations. Our main corporate office is in Hiawatha but we do serve a lot of Eastern Iowa as well.


– Great. Thanks for informing us on that, I really appreciate that. So future projects that you foresee down the pike, Chris.


– Yeah, that’s a good question. Our future projects are mainly just expanding as much as we can. It starts off small and then we just try to expand based on the need in the community. When we started the Mobile Food Pantry, we went out maybe once a week. Now, we’re going out pretty much every other day.


– Oh my goodness.


– To different places. That was a very great project that Alliant Energy was very gracious in donating to us for, so that was a big thing. That’s the flow of how we do things is we observe a need that’s out there in the community, we try to get an initiative or a program to help it and see how it goes and then based off of that, we really try to just either ramp it up and see how the need has been and grow in that way, which has certainly been with Operation BackPack as well so.


– I would imagine that’s been a very successful venture. Can you give us an estimation of how many kids are benefiting from that program?


– Yeah! Thousands, I know. It’s thousands–


– That’s cool.


– That we distribute. I don’t have an exact number but around every week, we distribute thousands of bags so it is really cool to see it all come together and in our warehouse to see all of those bags put together by volunteers and it’s really cool.


– I’ve seen that warehouse too, it’s pretty cool.


– Yeah.


– It’s very well-organized.


– Yeah, it is. Yeah, yeah, so.


– Well, in some of the area then, like grocery stores and stuff, if they get an overage, ’cause I think there was a lot of bananas there when I took my tour or whatever.


– Yeah. So we also pick up from different places like Hy-Vee, Walmart, Target. We get those kinda foods, so food that’s just on the verge of going bad but hasn’t gone bad. They’ll distribute it to us and we’ll pick up stuff so that way, we can distribute out quicker to a lot of the nonprofits in the area. So that’s a pretty big thing that we do, but yeah.


– So for those who wanna donate to Operation BackPack, how would they go about doing that?


– Yeah, so probably the best way I would say is donating on our website.


– Okay.


– Which is gonna be HACAP.org. That’s always a really great way. There’s a little green button in the right-hand corner that says Donate and you just click on there. We always like financial donations because that allows us to buy more food with that money. Also, the thing that’s a little different. We do two things. In our food bank, we also collect just canned food donations. We have those stuff come in. But with Operation BackPack, it’s a little bit more unique ’cause these items are very tailored for kids, like the little individual packages of Goldfish, cans of soup, those kinda things that are very, they’re smaller that kids can carry so that allows us to buy those food items so–


– Well, and let me know if I’m wrong here but when I took the tour, I just noticed there was giant pallets of food and I’m assuming that would be a lot easier to quickly and cheaply outsource to the community because you can systemize the bags and just have people just pack the bags really fast ’cause it’s all the same.


– Right, yeah.


– You have a thousand of the same exact item.


– Exactly.


– Which will be really hard if people were donating all these random things, just sort them and–


– Yup, yeah. We have a system down. And any time volunteers come in there, I was like, “Oh, what are we gonna do?” but I always tell people, all of our volunteer projects, it’s not rocket science. It’s put this item in the bag, put the next item in the bag, tie it up, and then you’re good to go, so yeah.


– So you guys look for volunteers in the community too then?


– Yeah, yup, we do.


– Huh? Okay.


– We have around 2,000 volunteers annually. With Operation BackPack, they’re also offsite, like churches will help out. We get a lot of really great support from local churches. They help to pack bags, we have volunteers help sorting food, we have volunteers in our Head Start classrooms reading books to kids, we have volunteers doing data entry, we have volunteers doing a lot of different things. They provide a lot of good work power that we couldn’t provide as employees.


– Awesome. So Chris, do you have any questions, any marketing or any questions that we can help with?


– Yeah, I think the big thing as a nonprofit is we’re always looking for ways to be marketing ourselves in a cost-effective to almost no cost way. So a big thing that we do is through social media and social media marketing but really any way outside of that as well, what’s the biggest way as a nonprofit that we can get our name out there, the best with having a low cost?


– Yeah. What have you found that works really well for you so far?


– I think the biggest things that have worked well for us have been social media marketing, just because a lot of people are on Facebook anyways. So that’s a big way if we have a cause or a campaign that we’re trying to get out in a quick manner, posting on Facebook is something that somebody could easily share it and then that friend shares it, and then that friend shares it, and all of a sudden you have 100 to 200 to 300 people who’ve seen it. So I think that’s a big thing that’s always worked. We always try to link stuff to our website, our donation page as well, so those are the main things that we do.


– Are you using Instagram?


– No, we are not.


– [Sarah] That would probably be my biggest–


– That is a good idea.


– Yes. Instagram is owned by Facebook and so you can actually link the two together so that you don’t have to do as much. If you go to the Instagram platform and post, it can go over automatically to Facebook too.


– Yeah, right, I have seen that. That’s kind of a cool thing because one of the things that I’ve figured out, and I do a lot of the public speaking events, or we’ll go to a college or say we’re going to a volunteer fair, a nonprofit fair at a college, well, you go to a college and you say, hey, like us on Facebook. College kids don’t have a Facebook page anymore. They’re on Instagram and Snapchat.


– It’s a completely different demographic.


– Which I’m pretty young and I go to these events and I say, hey, like us on Facebook and they don’t have a Facebook page. They look at me like, why would I be on Facebook?


– [Sarah] ‘Cause obviously, yeah.


– Obviously, you guys know. I mean, that’s a great idea ’cause obviously you guys know marketing’s about being where the audience is. Well, our younger generation is on Instagram or Snapchat too.


– And it’s the younger generation that really cares about giving back to the community and everything too, so getting on Instagram and Snapchat and TikTok is the new big one too.


– Yes, I have seen that. Yeah.


– I’m not on TikTok yet but I’m hearing that that’s where we really need to be. So yeah, I would definitely say Instagram, for sure. And then, do you have a personal Instagram page that you’ve gotten practice on how to use it?


– Yes, I have, yeah.


– Okay, so then you know how to use local hashtags?


– Yes, yeah.


– What is helpful though to also national hat. For a local ministry, local nonprofit, you even would wanna use national hashtags, because we have a fairly small community here compared to Chicago and–


– Like New York City or a big market.


– Yeah, New York, yeah.


– Right.


– So I would recommend using national hashtags too but not either/or. Use ’em both so that you get some likes and comments that help with the local traction because really what you want is the local traction obviously. So by local hashtags, which I’m preaching the choir here, but that would be just for our audience listening, the people listening, would be like #CedarRapids.


– Yeah, right.


– Another good one is #CedarRapidsMomsBlog.


– Mm, mm-hmm. One of the big things that we found, even as a trend in also volunteers and donations that people are donating more towards causes rather than programs. Still, we still do the same programs and we’re still doing those things but it’s a little bit different on how you approach it. So rather than saying please donate to our Head Start Program, please donate to the BackPack Program, please donate to educating children’s lives. That gets a little bit more ring, please donate to providing food for children over the weekend. That’s where it’s nice, where that Instagram and other things, you can really tie those things in.


– Yes, that’s awesome.


– Especially with hashtags too ’cause then you could do a #FeedChildren or something simple like that and virtually probably anybody in the country or in the world could look that up and see that so.


– [Sarah] Yeah.


– Then you are also allowed to be attuned to who your audience is.


– Right, right, exactly.


– That’s really crucial, isn’t it?


– Yeah, it is. It’s very crucial.


– So you’ll know who’s hearing, who’s seeing who you’re getting to communicate with. So you’ve done a really great job, Chris, of really outlining for us what HACAP is, what HACAP is doing, a lot of what your mission is. What else would you like our listeners to know about what’s going on?


– Yeah. I think the biggest thing is that there’s always a need. We had an employee, she was like, “Well, what’s your busiest time of year?” and she’s like, I ask that question and people say spring is pretty busy, fall is busy, summer is busy, winter is busy, so really every time of year is busy in some sense and it just is more of a testament to there’s always a need in some way, so I think that’s always the big thing. And also, too, any little bit helps. I think sometimes–


– That’s important to hear.


– Yeah, I think sometimes, people feel maybe a little bit ashamed. We get anywhere from donations that are maybe 50 cents, two quarters in the mail, or thousands and thousand of dollars like a $50,000 check. All of it really goes towards a pretty big buying power, and $1 equals six meals at HACAP.


– Oh, wow!


– So even if you just donate $1 and you’re thinking, I’m donating $1, that’s not gonna do a lot, well, that’s not true. You donate a dollar and that’s six meals there.


– So I’ve always wondered this. How does that? Because of donations by corporations too, but how does $1 equal six meals?


– We have a buying power where we can get mass quantities of food at very, very, very low cost.


– Okay.


– And a lot of the food that we also get into is donated. So you mix that in, we get a lot of good corporate donations too. You mentioned the pallet of bananas or whatever when you came, we’ll get different things like that. It may not always be bananas but it may be strawberries, different things like that. All of those things we can put together to make a meal and it comes out to a dollar just ’cause of a lot of our resources and our partnerships in the community so that’s the big thing that’s really nice is that a dollar does go a long way.


– That is amazing. So what’s your favorite part of your job? What do you love best about your job?


– What’s my favorite part of my job? I like a lot of things about my job, so that’s good. Oh, jeez. I think the favorite part about my job would probably be seeing things come full circle. Getting to speak with people out in the public is always fun because any chance that we get to. It’s always very rewarding when I go out and say, speak to a group or somewhere. I say something and they don’t realize that we did something and that we do and then it clicks in their mind. I think that’s always a cool thing. Just as an example, I went to speak to a group a few weeks ago. And they asked, I’m like, well, how much do you know about HACAP? And they said they knew nothing about HACAP. Well, as I was talking and mentioning more of the programs that we do, like, oh, well, my church does such and such and they help with packing backpacks, and then, oh, well, this, and then more things just came about and then by the end of it, they actually did know what HACAP was and they realized that we were a part of a lot of different things in the community. That’s the coolest thing about my job is getting to see those things fit together and also at a level it’s seeing the bigger picture and the fuller story and then trying to communicate that the best way to the public. I think that’s the biggest challenge but that’s what I like the most is trying to have people understand that their help really will help, so that’s the biggest thing.


– Okay, so the biggest takeaways, the next two steps for our viewers is number one, donate on the website. Number two, if the position where they need someone to come speak, they have a group of people, they can reach out to you.


– Yup.


– To come and speak to their group.


– Right, yup, and they can also do that on our website too.


– [Sarah] Okay.


– Our general email is info@HACAP, H-A-C-A-P .org.


– Okay.


– So there’s a form on our website too, yeah.


– [Sarah] Awesome! Well, thanks for being on–


– Great, thanks, Chris.


– Yeah, thanks for having me. This was good.


– The podcast, Chris.


– [June] Connection is crucial.


– Yes, yeah, it is.


– I feel like that not only we’ve made a connection today but I hope our audience has as well.


– Yeah, yeah, that’s good.


– So thank you for that.


– Good, yeah, thank you. Thank you.


– Well, and make sure you go to the HACAP Facebook page, like it, and the new Instagram–


– Yeah, coming soon!


– The coming soon Instagram.


– Instagram, Snapchat maybe. We’ll wait.


– TikTok, maybe.


– We’ll, let’s start with Instagram and then we’ll–


– Yeah, start with Instagram, go from there, so. Well, thanks for being on, Chris.


– Yeah, thank you, Chris.


– It was good to have you.


– Thank you, I appreciate it.


– And we will see you next time. Make sure you like and subscribe and we will talk to you later. Bye!