Dave Mackey said he attends fundraising events almost every weekend and watches the same group of people approached again and again for contributions to local charities.
While the need for donations continues to rise, the pool of donors seems to be shrinking.
One of those seeking donations has been Friends of Epworth, a non-profit that supports Epworth Children's Home on Millwood Avenue. But the home and its supporters are planning to soon add another source of income — ice cream sales.
The Methodist-based home houses around 70 children, and the average age is 14. Epworth is licensed to have children as young as 4, and also handles foster and family care placement for children younger than 4.
As the children learn and grow, and eventually graduate from high school, they can transition to Epworth's new campus housing at the former Carolina Children's Home off Trenholm Road.
Residents at that dormitory can continue their education — whether it be career training or attending a four-year college — and live rent free while learning to live independently. The students are supervised and taught life skills such as grocery shopping, how to save money, or what it means to sign an apartment lease.
"Just because they're done with high school doesn't mean that they're ready to be an adult," said Andrew Boozer, vice president for development and communications at Epworth Children's Home.
He said young adults in the continuing education program are Epworth's fastest-growing population.
"It's always fun to see, once they get to be 21 or 22 years old, and they have their first car, their first job and they've signed their first lease and we've helped them along the way," he said.
"They may have come as middle schoolers who were very shy and timid, but now they're moving out on their own, with a full-time job... it's really rewarding to see that spectrum and every step along the way... that's what we're heading towards."
But it takes money.
Epworth Ice Cream Co. is built around the idea that nonprofits will need to find new, alternative forms of fundraising.
The ice cream company has its roots at, but is separate from, Columbia’s Epworth Children’s Home.
A SCOOP OF HISTORY
When it was founded in 1896, Epworth Children’s Home incorporated a working dairy on about 100 acres of what was to become the heart of Columbia's Shandon community. The dairy, in addition to supplying the home with fresh milk and milk products, was a source of income for the orphanage and school.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the U.S. government started handing out surplus goods, and Epworth received a quantity of peanut butter.
Cream from the dairy and the government peanut butter were combined to make peanut butter ice cream.
Since the 1930s, Epworth’s peanut butter ice cream has been the signature ice cream flavor produced by Epworth Children's Home and made for special occasions.
A LOOK TO THE FUTURE
A few years ago, Friends of Epworth, an independent non-profit organization that supports the children’s home, decided to create a separate business enterprise to make Epworth peanut butter ice cream for sale – with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the children’s home.
Mackey, president of Epworth Ice Cream Co., joined Friends of Epworth in 2017 and created a business plan and raised the funds critical to the production start-up for the new business venture. The Columbia company is working with an artisanal ice cream maker near Atlanta to make the ice cream, and with a local baker to make cookies that will be used in ice cream sandwiches.
Epworth Ice Cream Co. will debut in late June or early July with pre-packaged pints and ice cream sandwiches featuring four flavors: the original peanut butter, sea salt caramel with caramel-filled chocolate candies, a chocolate and vanilla swirl with peanut butter chips, and classic vanilla bean. For more information visit epworthicecream.org.
Initially, Epworth Ice Cream Co. products will be sold online and at area church fundraising functions.
The goal, Mackey says, is for the company to grow slowly and eventually to expand into retail grocery store distribution.
While the Epworth Ice Cream Co. is a separate entity from Epworth Children’s Home, the children – at least the older ones – can still be involved in the production.
Teenagers will have the opportunity to sell ice cream through the concession stand during events at the children’s home, and to work for the ice cream company making ice cream sandwiches.
“What we’re looking at today with this new venture is an opportunity for children today to learn something that is applicable to their lives – how to run a small business, how to have an entrepreneurial spirit to go out and find those opportunities, and adjust and align yourself in a way that those opportunities work in your favor," Boozer said.
"It’s really the 21st century version of the old farm orphanage that has been here all along; its just looking at it in a new light.”