Three milestones, three loans, one long-term relationship: IFF helps ‘Meet the Need’ since 2009 May 4, 2017

An all-volunteer, low-budget nonprofit in a small town outside of Kansas City has been faced with some daunting decisions. Acquire or close. Rebuild after a devastating fire. Play it safe or expand. For each of these facility milestones, IFF played a key role that other lenders would not.

The Meet The Need (MTN) organization does just what its name says – it helps meet the needs of people who are having trouble making ends meet. What started out in 2004 with $40 and a modest goal to help neighbors through tough times, such as job loss, health problems, or divorce, has blossomed into a successful social enterprise that has assisted more than 11,000 individuals over the last 5 years. The organization generates revenue through an on-site thrift store and flea market, using proceeds to pay for hard costs like rent. Through donations and volunteer work, it runs an assistance center that connects clients with resources they need.

“We have an amazing group of volunteers – about 50 people who show up every month, some of them coming 2-3 times per week,” says Kris Peoples, the organization’s founder and executive director. “When they first come here, I give them a tour so they can really see that they’re not just cashiering – they’re feeding people, they’re getting people gas to get to work, they’re giving kids Christmas, they’re giving kids shoes. When they see the greater purpose behind all this, it’s more incentive to keep showing up.”

MTN first came to IFF in 2009 to ask about financing the acquisition of the building it was renting – a 16,900-square-foot commercial building on a 4-acre property.

“Back then, the building was not in great shape, but it was all we could afford – we were renting it out at only 23 cents per square foot,” Peoples says. “There was this guy going around town buying cheap properties for cash, and we knew that if he got our property we wouldn’t be able to afford anything else. I called normal banks, and they all wanted 20 percent down, and there was just no way we could do that.”

Auspiciously, IFF had expanded operations into the state of Missouri earlier that same year. “I Google’d ‘nonprofit lending in Missouri’ – those were literally the words I typed in – and up came IFF, and the rest was history,” Peoples says, noting IFF’s down payment requirement of just 5 percent. “IFF is the only reason that we are in existence today – that and the grace of God. If it weren’t for a program like theirs, we would not be here.”

The $309,000 loan closed in July 2009 – but just three months later, tragedy struck. A fire destroyed all but 3,000 square feet of the building. Prior to the fire, the organization had its strongest financial year – but more than 60 percent of MTN’s income came from the thrift shop and flea market that had just burnt to the ground.

Although the maximum amount of insurance had been obtained, the relatively low-value building just didn’t generate enough to pay for the necessary substantial repairs. Local media coverage of the fire prompted donations and offers of in-kind construction services, but they still needed financing to move forward.

Kirby Burkholder – now IFF’s Vice President and Executive Director for the Eastern Region – worked with Peoples on the original loan and came back to work on a new construction loan to rebuild after the fire.

According to Peoples, “IFF was big, yet seemed small enough to understand us individually. Kirby fought for me, and IFF played a huge, huge part in being willing to have such good terms that even somebody small like us could access financing.”

MTN paid off its original IFF loan with the insurance money and obtained a new $275,000 IFF loan for construction costs in April 2010. After a massive joint effort involving volunteers, churches, organizations, and businesses, MTN re-opened its stores and assistance center later that year. They have been operating successfully, and paying back their loan on time, ever since.

Today, with upgrades, the building is worth $1.2 million.

But Peoples isn’t done. MTN has been utilizing about 85 percent of the building for operations and renting out the remaining space. Now the organization is ready to take over the last 2,400 square feet for a new venture: Opportunity Café and Coffee Shoppe, which will generate revenue while serving as a real-life job-training opportunity for MTN clients.

“We help so many short-term needs, but we see the need to make a difference in what will really help people long-term,” Peoples says. “There are some people that never quite get the break they need. Coming to work every day for 90-180 days, getting some real job experience on their resume, that can be the difference they need.” MTN also plans to offer a mentoring program for people in need.

In March 2017, IFF closed on a new $61,000 loan to finance the café, which is expected to open later this year. The café will target MTN customers, people visiting patients at nearby Excelsior Springs Hospital, and surrounding community members who have few healthy food options.

Like all of MTN’s operations, the new coffee shop is supported by many volunteer laborers and community partnerships. Several local contractors are pitching in to complete major efforts such as plumbing, flooring, and concrete. A donated barn will provide decorative lumber for the walls. The list goes on.

“As daring as I am to believe anything is possible with God, I do have a business to run. You can’t spend money you don’t have, and you can’t help anyone if you’re not there. I live by that,” Peoples says. “But like everything else in life, you have your ideal of what’s going to happen and then you see what really happens. You have to be open to possibilities. Just by having this wonderful space that’s homey and awesome, it’s hard to tell what we can actually do with it.”

If the past is any indication, Peoples and the MTN volunteers will do great things with their new café.

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