Posted by: bevmeldrum | September 19, 2008

Listening to … Kathe McKenna

Recently I listened to a hard question from two health care workers attending a gathering of people dedicated to operating soup kitchens for those experiencing homelessness and hunger: “Don’t you know that you are killing the poor?”

What these passionate fellow-travelers were pointing to was the clear evidence that over-eating and eating the wrong food was creating unhealthy bodies that were responsible for early deaths as well as compromised lives. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure – all caused in great measure by poor nutrition – are also crippling the health care delivery system by using up so many resources.

Forty years ago when we first began Haley House, the men who lined up for hours waiting to come in out of the elements (into an unheated storefront), gratefully received a cup of coffee, slice of day-old bread – and maybe, some government surplus butter. Today such fare would be rejected out-of-hand. Where are the donuts, pasta, sugar coated cereal – or eggs and ham and toast and jam? Who wants to be the one to say, “Here’s some yogurt and granola, or made-from-scratch oatmeal?

This is where one is reminded of the Buddhist slogan – in order to fly the bird needs two wings: compassion and wisdom. With compassion alone, loving care can miss the mark; with wisdom alone, loving care can take the form of cold rationality.

The mission of our non-profit is to transform peoples’ lives. A business enterprise by definition has the goal to make a profit. Its leader(s) may feel responsible enough to operate their business conscientiously with regard to the planet, their employees, and perhaps those who produce the raw goods. But that is ‘value added.’ It may even be a way of conducting business (socially responsible business) that attracts more customers and therefore generates more revenue.

The purpose of creating our social venture, the Haley House Bakery Café, was to transform lives. The vehicle we use is a business that also must produce a profit if it is to survive. This is the heart of capitalism. For all its downsides (and they are many) inherent in capitalism is an energy that can be either seductive or liberating. It all depends on your goal: to simply make more and more profit, or to give access to this energy to people without capital. A subtle and elusive challenge.



  1. […] Haley House – ex-soup kitchen staffed by ex-homeless, bakery, bank donated equipment, financial picture – catering grew 36% cafe grew 21% september, cooking classes; recipe for success: collaborate with experienced partner, secure enough capital or equivalent, align venture with mission; plan for sustainability; future… […]

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