When the world descended into the abyss that is the year 2020, most people hunkered down to do... well, nothing. With all of this free time, many people turned to Netflix shows, sourdough starts, and rereading a book that had been sitting on a shelf for months.
But this was not the case for everyone. The pandemic's impact on food-insecure households weighed hard on the thoughts of two Worcester teenagers who decided to use their newfound leisure time to help those in need. Camden and Colton Francis started Beyond the Crisis, a nonprofit that supplies food to numerous Boston and Worcester-area neighborhoods that have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic, when they were 16 and 12 years old, respectively.
They've worked tirelessly with local food banks, grocery retailers, and others to get food into the hands of families in need. Camden Francis, now 18, visited Arun Rath on All Things Considered to talk about how "Beyond the Crisis" came to be. The transcript that follows has been minimally modified.
Rath, Arun: You're also here on behalf of your younger brother, Colton, who was 12 when you formed Beyond the Crisis?
Camden Francis: He was 12 when we founded this group. And it's been a bit of a rollercoaster ride since then. It's fantastic to be doing this with my younger brother; it's brought us closer together.
Rath: Was there ever a time during the pandemic when you felt compelled to do anything to help because it was so frustrating? How did everything come together?
So we were sitting there, watching news broadcasts about what was going on with the epidemic. It was near the peak of the pandemic when the COVID virus was acting strangely and disorientingly. We knew we weren't going to be the ones to discover a cure or a vaccine, but we knew we could do something.
If you take small efforts, and small initiatives, you can improve our community over time. So this organization started as a light bulb, an idea, but with the proper hands involved in rallying our community around it in the right way, we were able to shape it and make it into a transforming organization that has benefitted multiple families in our area.
Rath: So tell us about the beginnings. How did you get it up and running while also going to school amid a pandemic?
Francis: It was a learning experience in the beginning. It was a grind at first because there was so much going on. You need a lot of certificates and credentials to start a nonprofit.
Rath: That's fantastic that you persisted. Was there a point when you recognized, "We can do this, we're going to break through and make a difference"?
Francis: One of the most important things was our mentor, Kathleen Walsh, president, and CEO of the Metro North YMCA. She assisted us and provided us with a wealth of information and insight, allowing us to avoid the traps that many smaller firms face. So, when you're starting and don't have a lot of money to get started, it's critical that you don't make certain mistakes and avoid certain pitfalls that might be disastrous. But, with her assistance, expertise, and experience, we significantly accelerated our understanding of NGOs and charities, and we grew at a faster rate, which was a turning point in our business. We observed this organization progressing from an idea and a lot of research to something that was coming together. And that's a very exciting time for a lot of founders because, to put it bluntly, the early days are stressful.
Rath: Tell us about your progress since gaining a foothold, and where you are today after two and a half years.
Francis: So, for the time being, we're collaborating with Catholic Charities of Boston and Beacon Communities of Worcester, and we're expanding in our local neighborhood to assist new housing communities and homeless shelters in Boston and Worcester. And we're doing a lot of work in many areas, but we're still growing organically and making sure it's manageable, because my brother and I are still — I'm in college, and my brother is in his first year of high school. So we're aiming to develop Beyond the Crisis while also growing at a manageable rate.
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