We had the good fortune of connecting with Hayden Dansky and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hayden, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
As a leader in the nonprofit space, practicing self care and time away from work has become a crucial practice that I cultivate in my life. Under capitalism, we are expected to give our lives to our work. We live in a system that takes everything you need to survive, and makes you work for it back. As a nonprofit leader, there is a perpetual societal association that we are supposed to overwork and give ourselves away as martyrs. At Boulder Food Rescue, we work to counter that destructive norm by giving adequate PTO to all of our staff, self-care days off, self-care stipends, and we encourage each other to say no and take the time and space we need to take care of ourselves. We celebrate and share stories of travel and nourishment. We check in weekly about our self-care practices and ask for support when we need. We practice asking for support in our work assignments, and making sure that we have adequate time to accomplish certain tasks. It’s a blessing to have an environment where we can show up as whole people, because we know that how we take care of ourselves impacts how we show up at work. I’ve seen other nonprofits collapse due to a toxic work environment where staff are expected to give every ounce of themselves, which perpetuates martyrdom and white supremacy culture. I say all of this with the preface that it has not always been that way. I have had to do an immense amount of work on myself to change my own habits and cultivate new practices. My team does this as well. I used to overwork as a way to cope with trauma. Besides just the pressures of capitalism and expectations of society, in this field, we are praised for our overworking habits. It takes a lot of internal work to become valuable enough to ourselves to not overwork as a way to seek praise from others, but it also takes cultivating an environment where we praise each other for our hard work and our days off, but also for just being who we are. I’ve found that I am actually able to show up to work more fully and more presently for my team when I do take care of myself. It’s an ongoing practice and some weeks are harder than other, but I’ve learned its about progress, not perfection.
What should our readers know about your business?
According to Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger, 2 in 5 Coloradans are struggling with food insecurity since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the same report, more than half of households with children in Colorado struggle to reliably access nutritious food and 1 in 5 children aren’t getting adequate nutrition specifically because their families don’t have enough money to purchase healthy food. Boulder Food Rescue facilitates bicycle-based distribution of surplus food from grocery stores to communities across Boulder through No Cost Grocery Programs (NCGPs), which are community-led food distribution points. Broadly, this service benefits people with low incomes, including people who have experienced homelessness, families living with disabilities, Latinx families, immigrant families, people living in the rural mountain regions adjacent to Boulder, and older adults. NCGPs exist to mitigate barriers associated with food banking or government food benefit programs and build alternative infrastructures to meet food needs. For example, NCGPs mitigate barriers associated with red tape and paperwork by requiring no documentation. They mitigate barriers with transportation by operating in places people are already going to be like residential spaces, schools, and daycares. They mitigate barriers associated with shame and stigma by being operated and led by community members. We encourage communities to operate their program according to what works best for them and support them as requested in that process. Community members volunteer to receive and display food, inform neighbors about the program, and maintain the community space that the food is distributed in while BFR delivers food in quantities, qualities, and types that are desirable for individual communities at times and locations that are convenient to them. If there is a problem with the distribution of the food, we help mitigate that by making adjustments to the delivery or facilitating conversations within the community to help the delivery operate more optimally and equitably. So we are unique for a number of reasons: – We are bicycle based, with a 150 active volunteers distributing food 12 times a day, every day of the week. – We are decentralized, meaning we don’t take food to a centralized warehouse where it gets sorted and distributed like in a traditional food banking model. This allows us to focus on healthier food and get it to people right away. – We are community-led and participatory. Nonprofits often do not let program users have power or a say in how programs operate. We are flipping charity on it’s head and giving power to people instead. – We are working to change the “nonprofit industrial complex” from within. Traditional charities are rooted in white supremacy and martyrdom, working to advance only their own agendas of the people in power and looking good along the way. They don’t solve the problems we are trying to address. By giving power to people, we are changing that. This work takes time and care. It’s built in relationships and often those relationships go unnoticed. The work goes unnoticed. While some organizations have a very broad impact, our impact is deep, but underground. We operate in communities and backyards of program users, which isn’t visible to the public. Also, relationship building doesn’t get at the impact that a lot of traditionalists want to see. They want to see numbers that don’t actually address the root of the issue we are trying to solve – number of people served, pounds of food rescue. That just shows that more people are hungry! We are building meaningful connections. An example of this is that our Community Outreach Manager knows all of the birthdays of the Grocery Program Coordinators, and sends them cards. Our team is thoughtful, which means the most to changing systems, but isn’t always big numbers and big presence. To address the root causes of our work, we need to advocate for systems change. To do this, we will upset people. It is not hard to stay true to our values, but it can be hard to find all of the funders and people who understand what we are trying to do. Some systems seek to perpetuate harm; we are looking to radically change it. This also takes personal work, sharing of power, being wrong, and trying totally new things that have never been done before. I could go on and on about overcoming challenges, but it’s really the love of the work is what helps move me forward.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Boulder is one of the most stunning places due to so much open-space! My partner and I have a game called “The Boulder Challenge” where you have to find a hike in Boulder County where you don’t see anybody on it. We’ve only succeeded a few times, but sometimes in trying to find the secret spots, I usually get to exploring the trails. I would definitely take someone on an adventure like that. But if you want just a normal hike, there are so many spots along the front range of Boulder, that you really cannot go wrong. If it were summer time, we would be riding bikes, jumping in the creek, sneaking off to old train tracks, and finding shade under the giant cottonwoods. Maybe we would spend time in some parks or walk around the Growing Gardens and check out the goats at Mountain Flower Goat Dairy. For going out for food, I would suggest looking up BIPOC owned restaurants in the area on the internet. I’m a fan of Indian, Thai and Ethiopean food. Or, if you’re in the area and have access to a kitchen (because I love cooking), I would suggest going to the farmer’s market, or other markets with different cultural focuses across Boulder, to get ingredients to make your own grub.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The staff team at Boulder Food Rescue are my biggest supports. They all carry out the work of BFR with passion, love and commitment, but they also work with me to stay accountable to our values of dismantling white supremacy culture, creating participatory and inclusive practices, and being community-led. We do this work in our programs but also internally. They also teach me how to ask for support, let myself be a whole-person and come with all of my baggage, and learn and laugh a lot along the way. Also, our work is heavily inspired by the concepts and language of adrienne maree brown’s “Emergent Strategy” along with countless other social justice warriors who have carved the way for us to be where we are as change-makers.
Linkedin: Boulder Food Rescue
Lou Creech & Michael Benko