Thursday, August 16, 2012

Graduate Spotlight: Maricela Yee's Little Shop Artisan Box

By Amia Grashin, Summer Fellow

Maricela with her Gourmet Foodie Boxes

In 2011 Maricela Yee moved to the Bay Area from Hawaii. She always knew that she wanted to help individuals and better the community, but could not figure out what platform would work best for her. Prior to arriving in California she spent time working as a social worker and sold flowers on the streets of Honolulu, but these jobs did not truly fulfill her desire to be a part of a collective and artistic avenue of change. 

Leftovers and an attempt to preserve items from farmers markets sparked the initial idea for Little Shop Artisan Box. The spirit of Oakland inspired an idea in Maricela, and Women’s Initiative provided her the tools to turn that idea into a business.

Maricela creates Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)-style boxes of local, gourmet, artisan foods. She experienced the food of Bay Area artisans and wanted to help to share their talents with the community. Little Shop Artisan Box delivers hand picked, themed boxes to subscribers every month. The goal is to tell the stories of the artisans through their food. On the website customers can find stories about where the culinary creations come from. This business is the perfect mix of promoting local artisans, collaborating with people, and enjoying amazing food.  

Through this experience Maricela has discovered that she loves to empower people and now works to help her vendors grow in a sustainable, positive way. She has developed a business that celebrates each artisan and their craft, while staying local. Maricela is passionate about featuring other budding entrepreneurs, which grows their businesses along with her own. She brings the artisans on board in creating cohesive themes for the boxes. This creative collaboration is something that Maricela loves, and it is something that can be felt and tasted by the customers. 

Foodie Boxes: April Inspired by Spring Flowers; January Spice is Nice; February; Mothers' Day
She currently works with almost 40 local vendors and provides boxes to over 100 clients every month. Her business has grown so much in its first year that she has had to hire an intern to help her to expand effectively.

Maricela is always looking for way to reach new artisans and help them to build their businesses. She has found that Women’s Initiative can be a great tool in fostering their success. When speaking with Maricela about the success of her business she cant help but come back to the vital role that Women’s Initiative has played in providing her with important knowledge about becoming a successful business owner and providing her continued support as her business grows.

We at Women’s Initiative are extremely proud to have Maricela as part of our family and we look forward to her ongoing success.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Economic Self Sufficiency vs. Living on the Financial Edge

By Elizabeth Krueger, Summer Fellow (@elizlk)

A recent PBS Need to Know episode paints a vivid portrait of what it means to be “Living on the Financial Edge.” Watch it and see how a working-but-poor family makes difficult trade-offs every day and month, living on $35,000 a year - well above the federal poverty line of less than $20,000 a year for a family of 3. The mother spreads out her medication rather than taking it as prescribed, the older son works all day without lunch, with a paycheck spoken for before it’s even earned. They have no savings and can’t look to the future, needing to devote all their energies to daily juggling.

Women’s Initiative seeks to help low-income women achieve financial self-sufficiency, but what exactly does that mean?

“To be truly economically secure, and leave poverty behind for good, people need enough money to be able to pay for the basics like rent, food, child care, health care, transportation, and taxes, and enough money to develop savings and assets.” Insight Center for Community Economic Development

In considering the situation portrayed on Need to Know, the family income wasn't enough to cover all its food or health care costs, much less the ability to save – and that’s at an income level nearly double that of the federal poverty guidelines. As the Insight Center describes, the federal poverty guidelines don’t reflect a meaningful measure of what it actually costs to live. The calculations don’t consider the costs of rent, child care, transportation or health care. The calculation is based only on the cost of food, which is assumed to be 1/3 of a family’s total cost of living, with no variation by region. Do you think milk, bread and eggs cost the same at a grocery store in San Francisco and Indianapolis? Neither do I.

The Insight Center has an online Self Sufficiency Calculator for California on its website, which paints a better picture of what income would be required for economic self-sufficiency. For San Francisco County, the annual income is around $48,000 for a family of 3 adults – more than $13,000 more than the family in Newark, NJ. And food costs are estimated at less than 1/5 of monthly income, unlike in the federal guidelines. According to the US Census Bureau, which uses the federal poverty guidelines, there were 46.2 million Americans living in poverty in 2010. Imagine how many people live below the much higher standard of true economic self-sufficiency.

For women driven to own their own businesses, Women’s Initiative can help. In addition to teaching women the necessary business skills, Women’s Initiative training covers personal financial literacy skills, similar to some of what was described in the Need to Know program. Women need to know how to avoid the pitfalls of the financial system, generate income and start to build savings to achieve self-sufficiency.