Mom always says that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—and for the 50 to 85 homeless youths that Denver nonprofit Urban Peak serve at their drop-in center on 21st and Stout streets daily, the value of a warm breakfast is priceless. Now Urban Peak can be certain that their volunteers will be able to continue dishing out this daily meal, thanks to their official pancake sponsor, Birch Benders.
Birch Benders is a Boulder-based company that is revolutionizing the just-add-water pancake game. Formed in 2011 by Matt LaCasse and then-girlfriend (now wife) Lizzi Ackerman, the duo wanted to create easy-to-make pancakes that were healthier than the competitors. When college roommate and friend Brandon Sharp came onboard as their Chief Brand Officer around the time of their 2014 launch, Sharp knew he wanted to add a way to give back to the community.
Sharp heard about Urban Peak after attending the organization’s annual fundraiser, Urban Nights, in August. He soon decided to get involved.
“It was sort of a personal thing at first and when I met with some of the leadership at Urban Peak and they told me about their daily breakfasts that they serve at the drop-in center, I realized this is a perfect match for us,” says Sharp. “We make pancakes; they serve breakfast to people everyday who need to eat and don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Urban Peak is dedicated to creating self-sufficiency for homeless youth in transition and helping those who are at risk of becoming homeless. On top of the hot breakfasts and other services provided at the drop-in center, Urban Peak helps connect youths with apartments, either in one of the 68 units they own, or in one of the 58 to 60 partner units throughout the community. “When youths are either coming out of the shelter or off the street, they don’t always have kitchen skills,” says Joshua Zmroczek, Urban Peak’s Director of Development & Public Affairs. “Now we’re able to provide them with a couple of bags of the Birch Bender pancake mix where all they have to do is add water and cook the pancakes, giving them that additional step toward feeling independent because they are able to prepare their own meal in their own kitchen for the first time.”
Not only will Birch Benders be supplying Urban Peak with different flavors of their all-natural pancake mix, but the team of six will also be volunteering quarterly at the center. “I think for us, it’s an opportunity not only to participate in service, but also to see how people respond to our pancakes in real life,” says Sharp. “It’s important for us to realize what’s going on around us—that there are people suffering right outside our doors. I think the onus is on small businesses like ours to fill in the gaps and help out as much as we can.”
The partnership is one overflowing with gratitude on both sides. It’s symbolic of the relationship that Zmroczek sees between the volunteers and the youths at the drop-in center: gratitude for being able to contribute to the community and a reflected gratitude for the service. “While we can’t help homelessness by doing only one thing, we can through a system of support. I think that volunteering at the drop-in center or with Urban Peak really gives people an opportunity to connect and to help an issue,”says Zmroczek. “It may be just one day, and it may be just one meal but it’s that one day and one meal that they were able to provide.”