Baylor Alumni Spotlight featuring Lindsey Koch and Vanessa Martinez
"Anything for Baylor." That's the motto of Baylor's Chamber of Commerce – and one that Vanessa Martinez has taken to heart.
A group of servant-minded students who use their organization to support the Baylor community, the Chamber men and women care for Baylor's most famous traditions, including the live bears on campus.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Vanessa (BBA '19), has translated that Chamber mentality into service for her hometown community of El Paso, Texas, where she has started Feed the Frontline, El Paso, a nonprofit aimed at feeding the city's healthcare workers while simultaneously helping local restaurants struggling in the wake of the pandemic.
"I was working through a fellowship in Governor Greg Abbott's office, and when COVID hit, I went home," Vanessa said. "I had seen a similar open source model in Austin, and I figured, I'm back home, this is something I would love to do here. I had the idea, I had a couple of Baylor friends help me start. Within 48 hours, we had a website up and running."
Vanessa reached out to several businesses to partner with her in the project, and with an initial fundraising of $10,000, Feed the Frontline began. Seven weeks later, Vanessa's organization has raised more than $46,000 and provided more than 4,500 meals to the city's two major hospital networks and the William Beaumont Army Medical Center, as well as two state psychiatric units. Vanessa leads a group of 8-12 volunteers each week in running the logistics of the operation.
Her time at Baylor, she says, is what prepared her for such an impressive feat.
"I was greatly enriched by a wonderful education in which I was given out-of-classroom experiences and not just in-classroom textbook learning," she said. "I was in a philanthropy course (at Baylor) where the class acted as a board of directors and actually gave funding and support to several nonprofits. Then, I was also in the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, and our main mission was to serve the university. We did a lot of planning as a 19, 20, 21 year-old and managed a pretty large budget and put on large scale events for the University. I was given the opportunity to really flourish as a student and put into practicality what I was learning in the classroom."
Vanessa's connections through Baylor Chamber led her to contact Cody Nethery (BBA '19), a fellow Chamberman, who provided marketing and media relations support as Vanessa began the early stages of Feed the Frontline. But the Baylor connections didn’t end there.
More than 1,300 miles away, Lindsey Bacque Koch, BA '17, sat one evening in her Nashville living room with her husband, Karl Koch, BBA '16, talking about how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting their city and the nation as a whole.
"I said, I have this crazy idea," explained Lindsey, a former Baylor student body president. "What if we ask our friends if they would want to buy a meal for a local healthcare worker, and we organize it to make sure that the meal is purchased from a local restaurant? I posted something on my Instagram, and within about 24 hours, I had about $1,000."
The swift response left Lindsey surprised and researching how to responsibly funnel the money she had received to local healthcare workers. Her research led her to Vanessa.
"I came across a news article about another Baylor alum in El Paso who had started a similar initiative," said Lindsey. "That Baylor connection is definitely something I used to reach out to her. She messaged me right back and said I'd love to talk to you more. She gave me advice on everything from the nonprofit details to setting up everything logistically with meal deliveries as well as how to package everything given the circumstances with disease. It was a really critical point for me."
The conversation with Vanessa sparked Lindsey to reach out to the nonprofit organization Frontline Foods and find other Nashville locals who similarly wanted to help healthcare workers and local restaurants. Within days, the small group of volunteers began sending meals to healthcare workers. Lindsey has since stepped back to support through social media as she prepared to graduate from Vanderbilt University last week with her master’s degree in higher education policy.
When asked, Lindsey was quick to downplay her role in supporting Nashville's healthcare workers, reflecting on the sacrifices of others instead.
"That's sort of the joy in it for me, the dual mission of helping our local restaurants and helping thank our healthcare workers," Lindsey said. "The beauty in it is that they may never know my name or who I am, and that's what we're called to do – as Christians, we are called to serve others and not necessarily get the credit."
Serve. It's a word both women use repeatedly through their interviews. A gratitude for the opportunity to serve. An awareness of the responsibility they have taken on through the philanthropy of others.
For Vanessa, the nonprofit she created will extend beyond the pandemic.
"I will continue here for as long as I can," Vanessa said about her work at Feed the Frontline. "I hope, eventually, to find a middle ground where I'm able to be in public service as well as continue this nonprofit. I've always been pretty passionate about philanthropy, and that's all due to a lot of the courses and experiences I had at Baylor. I'm still finding a good place to continue to serve in the best ways that I can."
Whatever the future brings, both women said they hope to remain in contact with each other, continuing a friendship forged out a pandemic bound together by their alma mater.