For 18 years, Compassion Coalition has been considered one of the top non-profit agencies in Utica and Central NY. Every political and social influencer has praised Compassion Coalition for its innovative approach to help those most vulnerable in the community. Since 1999 Compassion Coalition has donated well over $20 Million in products on a yearly basis. Additionally, in 2016 it served over 300,000 individuals all doing this with one of the lowest donation to expense ratio. Currently, Compassion Coalition can boast that .96 cents out of every $1 will go back to the community. Today, Compassion Coalition is an international organization headquartered in Utica NY and although their services can be seen in different nations its main priority is still serving its community.
In 1997 as the city began to recover from 10 years of financial recession brought about by the closure of the military base in Rome NY, it began to see new life in the city. However, even as there were signs of recovery in the city there was still an unease that was felt. The years of recession had left scars on the once vibrant city. Many were still struggling to subsist. It was during this time that the founder Mike Servello Sr really began to see. As a pastor of a large congregation, he understood the biblical mandate of providing for the needy but it was during this time that he really began to embrace the city and in embracing the city he was able to clearly see the need.
Accurately Assess The Need.
As eyes were opened it was evident that the city needed a new approach to helping those in need. Even though the city was on the road to recovery from recession there were many who were still without the basic necessities. Many in the community were still going hungry at night. Compassion Coalition discovered that many children in our city were subsisting on one meal a day. At first, this seemed incredible that in our society with the welfare programs that are available in the US that there were children and seniors who were hungry. Assessment led to seeing that government programs could only provide a certain amount however it could not completely cover the needs.
Provision For The Vision.
In 1999, Compassion Coalition formally organized into a non-profit and created an organizational vision. One of the components of that vision was to have a central warehouse facility that could receive and then send goods and food products to those that were in need. Although the vision was clear it still had a long way to go in terms of finding resources for the vision. Providentially, a local businessman hearing of the vision decided to donate a fully functioning 30,000 sq ft warehouse facility at 509 Lafayette St in Utica NY. Upon receiving this incredible gift Compassion was challenged again because now that a building was received it needed products to distribute. Compassion and its board and other associated business leaders began to reach out to corporations and businesses in the area. One of the first corporate sponsors was Walmart and they began to send tractor-trailers full of products and goods. What was once an empty warehouse has become a hub of products and goods that have been distributing locally, regionally and internationally.
What seemed like an immense space in 1999 has now been outgrown as the operations of Compassion Coalition have grown exponentially. Compassion is currently in the process of expanding, acquiring and moving operations to a larger facility. This will facilitate a better flow of products and the addition of new innovative services to reach the community locally and abroad.
MISSION AND VISION
At Compassion Coalition, it is our mission to serve the underprivileged, the needy, the poor, the afflicted and those lacking opportunity and basic life necessities such as affordable food, clothing, housing, transportation, employment and finances. We will work locally, regionally,
nationally and globally as needed to accomplish our mission with partners in the public, private, and faith-based organizational communities.
We envision a world without poverty, without need, and without injustice. We will strive to promote and create a world of abundance, prosperity, full-life, opportunity, equality, justice and safety for all that we have the privilege of serving.
Since 1999 Compassion Coalition has been on an exponential growth curve however in the early years, the non-profit model that Compassion followed was a church pantry. A church pantry model receives what is donated and directly gives or delivers to those in need in the church. The pantry model works in a church but due to the growth of Compassion Coalition, this was not a model that was sustainable or effective for an organization its size. Compassion’s leadership team researched and looked at different non-profit models but they were unable to find a match for the organization’s vision. As the leadership team discussed this, they decided to study and assess the needs of the community. In doing so, they could come up with a more focused organizational mission. After their assessment two main needs stood out. The first was that any government assistance was limited and logistics of distribution were cumbersome. The acquiring or reception of these items was challenging and full of hurdles. Individuals in need receiving assistance felt disenfranchised.
Four Ways Compassion Coalition Implements Its Mission and Vision.
1. Choosing to work with social agencies in the area.
Compassion Coalition empowers the local social agency who has a long history in the community and is already in personal connection with those in need. Compassion engages these social agencies through the Community Partner Agencies program. As a Community Partner agency, they have access to the products that Compassion receives from their Corporate Sponsors. These products and goods are available as a pass-through, so whatever is received is distributed directly to the Community Partner Agencies. The Community Partner Agency then directly distributes goods and products to individuals connected to their agency. These recipients receive products from someone they have a relationship with and knows their situation more intimately.
2. Being innovative and providing products that restore dignity.
Unbeknownst to many government assistance is limited to some basic food products. Government assistance does not cover the following items. Toilet paper, diapers, female sanitary products, and other basic necessity products. These are just a few of the products that are not available. These products and the care and grooming of oneself is important in giving an individual dignity. Other items that are not provided by government assistance is clean underwear. A child going to school with clean underwear is a child that can feel good about themselves. Compassion Coalition has access to these products and can distribute them to Partner Agencies.
3. Providing for educators so they can provide for their students.
Other than a parent or a guardian one of the main connections of a child is a school teacher. A teacher can quickly assess a child’s vulnerabilities and be able to assist. Unfortunately, most teachers who are underpaid usually must pay for supplies and assistance products out of pocket. By providing supplies and sundry items to a teacher so they can distribute to the whole class preserves the dignity of an individual child.
4. Providing Free Mattresses and Furniture.
One of the most vulnerable individuals in society is a homeless person/individual in recovery. Many of these recovering individuals transition from treatment center to temporary or permanent housing. Unfortunately, most housing does not include furniture or even mattresses. By providing such items through partner agencies, individuals can find a sense of stability and be comfortable in their new surroundings.
These are just some of the examples of how Compassion Coalition’s mission to Reclaim Dignity and Distribute Hope is worked out in its services.
How does Compassion Coalition receive its funding?
Compassion Coalition operates as an innovative model for non-profits in which the goal is to distribute all goods and services at 100% reinvestment. What this means is that every product and donation that is received by Compassion is given completely back to the community without those goods or contributions diluted by operational costs. Currently, Compassion Coalition is reinvesting back to the community .96 cents for every dollar received. There are only a few non-profit organizations nationally, or internationally that can claim this.
As they researched other forms of funding including fundraisers and government grants, it became apparent that fundraising and grant writing were going to be options that would require substantial financial resources. When the leadership team of Compassion Coalition looked at other non-profit models, they discovered that government grant and fundraising activities could eat away at the actual cash value of donations. Some organizations that they studied were running on an average of 30% or 30 cents per dollar towards fundraising and grant writing. That figure did not include the operations or salaries of the other employees. For many organizations by the time all operating and fundraising activities were paid there remained only 10% or .10 cents on the dollar that reached the individual in need.
Additionally, grants and fundraising activities could fluctuate according to the political climate and the economy. Compassion’s leadership realized that funding via grants and fundraising were never secure. In 2002, Compassion began a trial run of a grocery store that would sell discounted food products. These food products were not donated products but were purchased from some of our Corporate Sponsors at a significant price reduction and then resold with a small markup at the Compassion grocery store for a profit. After a few months word began to get out about the grocery store and it became a quick success. Since 2002 all of the benefits generated by the grocery store pay for all of the operational costs of the non-profit organization.
Although some other organizations use this model – Compassion Coalition is leading in this new format for self-sufficient non-profits.