The nonprofit lightbulb first went on for Dan in church one Sunday as the pastor addressed an aside to entrepreneurs. “The pastor said, ‘You guys aren’t afraid to start things and fail. Why not start something that matters and not be afraid to fail?’” Dan explains. “And that took away all the excuses I had in my mind about not starting a nonprofit.” That’s when the process first began.
“I had worked in the tortilla industry for about 10 years,” says Dan, who points out that this industry rakes in about $11 billion annually (as of 2013). In spite of their sizable yearly intake, Dan knew that the tortilla industry didn’t do anything charitably as a group—it looked like a perfect opportunity. “I got to know a lot of people in that industry, and I thought it would be cool if we could help orphans in Mexico.” He grabbed a friend and they headed out to canvas the largest tortilla convention of the year. They talked to several people, and the overwhelming reaction to both the idea and the name was, “That sounds great!”[/cs_text]
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So, the fledgling nonprofit had a name and a general mission—The Lord’s Chips: help Mexican orphans—“But I didn’t know where in Mexico, or what orphanage, or anything like that,” says Dan. He’d traveled to Mexico as a kid, so he had some idea of what they were getting into, but he didn’t know where would be best to get involved. After talking to just about everybody they knew, Dan came up with three possible orphanages. “John Swanson, one of the other founders who is now on our board, and I took a scout-trip to Mexico.” They visited their three prospects and instantly connected with one called Casa Horizonte.
Casa Horizonte is located in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, a port city just south of the Mexican-American border. When Dan visited, it was housing three special needs children, Isabel, Juan, and Carlos, and their stories were what helped narrow the Lord’s Chips’ focus from generally helping orphanages in Mexico, to specifically helping orphans with special needs.
“Isabel was found in the trash with a bag over her head,” says Dan. “She had fetal alcohol syndrome and autism—pretty severe stuff. The two brothers, Juan and Carlos, suffer from tethered spinal cord syndrome (their spinal cords are too short), brought on by abuse.” They were the first kids they met there, and, as Dan puts it, they just fell in love with them. “They were awesome. So we started trying to raise money for them, first through the tortilla industry, and then just with people we knew.”
“It expanded from the tortilla industry,” explains Janna Brooker, Dan’s wife, “because they didn’t initially embrace it the way Dan thought they might. So we opened it up to friends, family—whoever wants to give.”
They’re in dire need.
They just aren’t making enough.
The Lord’s Chips officially kicked off in 2011, and has seen slow, steady growth each year. “I don’t know how,” says Dan with a laugh, “it just does.” Each year, they assess their income, divide by twelve, and make a monthly commitment to their partner orphanages for the coming year. “It really helps take the edge off for them.”
Janna points out that the Lord’s Chips isn’t opening new orphanages, rather “we’re supporting ones that are there already. And we research them to make sure that they are up to standards.”
Among the most important things to establish are property ownership and a paper trail, so it is clear that each donation is making it to the orphans. “Down in Mexico it’s difficult because it is a cash society and there are no receipts for anything,” says Dan. “A lot of times people will go support an orphanage and help develop the property, then find out the orphanage doesn’t own the property. They get kicked out and the actual owner makes a fortune because of all the improvements. We’re leery of things like that.”
Another thing they’re careful about is keeping any one orphanage from becoming too dependent on the Lord’s Chips’ funds. “We think 10% of their total need is a good target. Once we get to that point with one place, we find another.” Currently, the Lord’s Chips is supporting two orphanages: Casa Horizonte and, more recently, the Mission at Carmen Serdán. The Mission was supported by Applegate Christian Fellowship in Oregon starting in 1990. “They have 15 or 16 special needs people there. I say ‘people’ because, although they were all kids when they showed up, some of them are adults now,” says Dan. “They’re more medically fragile, and ten or eleven can’t see to their basic bodily needs.” This makes for more labor-intensive work, which means more staff.
“They’re in dire need,” says Janna. “They just aren’t making enough. So that’s who our main focus is right now. Casa Horizonte is well-run and thriving, so we want to start working on the Mission.” Dan already has his eye on a third possible partner orphanage, and will be taking a trip in the fall to assess their situation.
“Last year Juan and Carlos had surgery to relieve some of their spinal cord tension.
When we went this year, we actually got to see them walk for the first time,” Dan says.
“I get emotional talking about that. It was huge.”
As his experience with the Lord’s Chips has continued, Dan has had to become more comfortable with asking people for money—something he still finds hard at times. “It’s also difficult figuring out who to ask,” says Janna. “At first it was just aimed at the tortilla industry, so people who heard about it from the outside thought, ‘oh, it’s being taken care of.’ Then we had to shift, so now anyone can donate. But we still need to get the word out there.” As the Lord’s Chips continues to grow, Dan hopes to bring someone in to help with social media. Currently, they have no “staff,” and are totally run on a volunteer basis by the board of directors, all of whom hold full-time jobs as well.
But with each biannual weekend trip to Mexico, when Dan escorts Father-Kid crews and donors to see the orphanages they’re supporting, Dan sees firsthand the real reason for this investment of time, resources, and energy. “Last year Juan and Carlos had surgery to relieve some of their spinal cord tension. When we went this year, we actually got to see them walk for the first time,” he says. “I get emotional talking about that. It was huge.” The 10- and 12-year-old had lived a life of army-crawling up to that point. Now each can use a walker and Carlos can even take steps on his own. “It’s so amazing. So cool,” says Dan.
For those looking to get involved, the most useful thing is monetary donations. Although some people have asked about foodstuffs, at this point there is not much the Lord’s Chips can do with those resources. For those closer to the California-Mexico border, large objects, from medical equipment like wheel chairs to washing machines, are welcome—especially since these items are expensive and difficult to transport all the way from Oregon. And, of course, they always welcome the intangibles: “If people have gifts and want to get involved, they’re welcome,” says Janna.
This year, after making the pilgrimage to Mexico herself, Janna Brooker created a video that summarized the mission of the Lord’s Chips more succinctly than it had been before. They were able to show this video as their presentation at the huge tortilla industry convention they’d attended in the past. All the heavy hitters were there, including the CEO of Gruma (Mission Tortilla Chips), who represents about half of the income of tortilla industry, and the CEO of another large brand, Minsa. “We were looking at the numbers and realizing it was costing us more to come than we were getting from the convention,” remarks Dan. “We were considering making this our last year if it wasn’t different.”
The Lord’s Chips’ team went in with a deliberate effort to get people involved. They showed the video. And the response was astounding. “We made four times what we got last year,” says Dan. Not only that, the CEO of Minsa, Rodrigo, came up to Dan after their presentation. “He said, ‘I didn’t understand what you guys were doing. We’re going to send you a check. We’re going to start helping you now.’ And then he gave me a hug,” says Dan. Sure enough, a check for $8,000 followed soon after.
“I think they just didn’t understand clearly,” says Janna. Hopefully this new phase will continue in the years to come. “We really turned a corner,” says Dan. But it is clear that with a ministry like this, the work will never simply be finished. As the Lord’s Chips look to the future, Dan is hoping to continue expanding their capabilities and the number of orphans they can help. As with any business or nonprofit, one of their most valuable commodities will be exposure.
So, whether you’re in a place to donate or not, let’s help them spread the word. It’s literally a press of a button, and that action could get their story in the hands of someone who can give even if you’re unable.
Each donation will change a life.
You can donate by visiting this link.
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”Isaiah 6:8
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