Kelly Sawyer Patricof
& Norah Weinstein
Los Angeles, CA
It all started with… too small shoes.
When Kelly Sawyer Patricof was volunteering at a Head Start Center in Harlem, a little boy she worked with started crying and refused to do his math. When she asked why, he told her that his feet hurt. Kelly took his shoes off to discover that they were three sizes too small and his feet were covered in blisters. This was one catalyst for Baby2Baby: a nonprofit dedicated to providing children from 0-12 with basic essentials, run by Kelly and co-founder Norah Weinstein. Baby2Baby originally existed as a community-based program until Norah and Kelly approached the owners with a vision to take it to the next level. This is how they’ve transformed a grassroots organization to a nonprofit that serves 100,000 children (and counting) in need.
How were you able to transform Baby2Baby into the nationally recognized non-profit that it is today?
Norah: We’ve always approached it that way and never saw an alternative. The poverty statistics in LA and beyond were staggering, and we knew that there was a huge need we had to address. We knew that one in three women had to choose between food and diapers — so giving out diapers to 100, 1,000, or 10,000 people wasn’t enough. Even now that we’ve grown and are helping 100,000 families, we still don’t feel like it’s enough. In many ways, we’ve approached Baby2Baby as a business more than a nonprofit.
We were in a tiny, 600 square foot warehouse space with no loading dock when Huggies offered us 100,000 diapers. There was only one answer in our minds. We said we’ll take them and we’ll figure it out. We never say no. That approach has given us a reputation as a company that is flexible and that will do whatever it takes in order to give back to the children. — Norah Weinstein
When you’re driven by such a heartbreaking issue, is it easy to get emotionally involved in your cause?
Kelly: When I hear how the diapers we’ve provided have kept the lights on or enabled a mother to give her family a meal, I can’t help but get emotional. When we talk to the families we serve and hear how we’re helping them, it just makes us want to work harder.
Norah: In the 30 days of each month, we probably spend three days with the families and the other 27 working to get them what they need. We have events once a month called Playdates. Depending on the theme, we invite families to our headquarters, the beach or a park, and throw this fun event that never feels like a handout. Each kid leaves with a big bag that looks like a gift bag — but contains underwear, socks, uniforms, books, school supplies and toys. We spend those events talking to the kids, parents, social workers and school teachers. Those are our emotional days, and then we spend the rest of the time thinking about how to address their issues. We try to turn that emotion into action.
What are some of the challenges that you face?
Every day we face the challenge of striving to serve more children. — Kelly Sawyer Patricof
Norah: In terms of running a business, nonprofits face the same challenges that for-profits do. We have 15 full-time employees and deal with things like getting the landlord to fix the plumbing. A good problem that we have is how we’re always running out of space. We have big visions for the organization and always overshoot on how much space we need, but even then, within each year of our lease being up we’re bursting at the seams. We’re constantly serving kids regardless of what else we have going on. When it comes to this time of year, we’re gearing up for our annual gala. People say to us, “You must be so busy because November is coming up.” Sure, we’re busy — but it’s because we have 100,000 kids relying on us to have their needs met, and those needs don’t stop because we’re having a party.
With such an important cause where there’s always more to do, is it difficult to appreciate your achievements?
Norah: The two of us will pat ourselves on the back for one second, then immediately turn to the 400,000 kids we’re not serving yet. That said, when managing employees there are times when we need to slow down, step back and be accomplishment-focused. I think as leaders of the organization, we need to rally the people around us and take moments to focus on how far we’ve come. But Kelly and I are not as inclined to do that for ourselves.
As mothers running a business, do you think balance is possible?
Kelly: Every working mom has the same struggle. Some days you feel like you’re not paying enough attention to your kids, and the next day you realize you missed an important work call. It’s an ongoing battle. What we try to do is involve our kids as much as possible in Baby2baby. They volunteer and donate their gently used essentials. By involving them as much as possible, they know what we’re doing when we’re not around, and understand that it’s important. Or hopefully they do!
In terms of style, how does what you wear help you put your best foot forward?
Kelly: If you’re wearing something makes you feel good and confident, you’re going to project that. If I’m going to an important meeting, I like to dress the part and wear my power outfit. I have a rule at Baby2Baby that there are no gym clothes allowed except on diaper day (when we’re pulling diapers off a truck.) I do it in heels, but everyone can wear workout clothes and sneakers if they want.
I think it’s important to look your best, whether you’re an intern or a CEO. — Kelly Sawyer Patricof
Noah: Kelly has definitely set the tone for that in our office and we’ve all learned so much from it. It’s also another example of how we’ve approached this as a standard business. There’s nothing lesser about a nonprofit when compared to a for-profit — it’s not light hours and we run a really tough business. We’re teaching young women who work here a lot about professional life in general, and dressing the part gives an impression that this place is serious (and fun!).
Any advice you’d like to pass on to other entrepreneurs?
Norah: Before Baby2Baby I was a lawyer. People say to me sometimes, “Was it nice leaving the law to work in a nonprofit, now that you’re a mom?” — implying that I work less. I think when you’re doing something entrepreneurial, it becomes a 24/7 job. We both have two children and we refer to Baby2baby as our respective third child. It never stops. I can’t think of a situation we’re in where we can’t bring up Baby2Baby, whether it’s talking to a potential donor about money, architectural plans, bottles, sponsorship — it’s always top of mind. So my advice would be to only jump into something if you’re 100% ready, because it truly consumes your life. Which is not a negative, but it’s a reality of running a business.
We live and breath our business from the minute we wake up to the minute we go to sleep. It’s our passion in life. — Kelly Sawyer Patricof
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BRIDGET FLEMING SEPTEMBER 2015