In this episode, we had an inspiring conversation about For The Kids’ immense work and their contribution to the community. Minda shared details of her background and what inspired her to volunteer, donate her time, and spend it with kids in need. We also talk about For The Kids’ powerful message: giving them hope by showing them that many people care. Minda kindly shared valuable leadership lessons she got working for so many years managing big groups of people, her motivations to get out of the comfort zone, and much more.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. And we have an inspiring guest with us today. She is the founder and executive director of For The Kids, a nonprofit entity. For The Kids involves the community in developing, mentoring, and feeding kids with passion, dedication, and care. During the COVID, For The Kids has nearly doubled the number of kids that they have served each week. And they currently are putting out – get this, right now – 350 bags of food that they leave with kids in their room each week. Now, we’re going to hear more about that. But first of all, welcome, Minda Zoloth.
Minda Zoloth: Thank you so much, Steve, for having me. What an honor. And I can’t wait to talk about For The Kids and what we do to help kids.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, this is going to be a lot of fun. I’ve been inspired by Minda. And I know that we can each learn as we think about becoming our best. This is just a great way to think about how can we become our best from each of our respective spheres of influence. So, before we start our interview today, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Minda. Professionally, Minda is the revenue director for seven hotels including Marriott, Hilton, and IHG. There’s a little backstory that I really need to share that led to today’s podcast. About six months ago, I was on a flight and met a terrific gentleman, Chris Zoloth. He is an executive with the IHG hotel group, which is one of the leading hotel groups in the United States and the world, very successful. And it was fun getting to know him. And then he told me about his wife, Minda, who was also in the hotel business but with a different firm. We had fun visiting. And I sent him a copy of our newly released book, Do What Matters Most. Then Chris really went a lot deeper into the amazing thing that his wife, Minda, was doing and serving meals to those in need. And then fast forward six months, and I was on a flight for a board meeting to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Lo and behold, I sat down and looked to the right, and there was Chris and his wife, Minda. Oh my goodness. It was so fun to see Chris again and to meet you, Minda. That was a blast, wasn’t it?
Minda Zoloth: That was amazing. So, Chris nudged me and said, “That’s Steve. I sat with him on the way from Phoenix, like four months ago, and I haven’t flown since. And here he is on our same row.”
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, that was awesome. I loved it. Well, she has been a blessing, I might add, to so many individuals and families including thousands of turkey dinners that were provided just this last week for Thanksgiving. Her team has just completed an exhausting but amazing day of serving others. And so while we were together, I invited Minda to be a guest on our podcast, and she graciously accepted. So, I’m so glad to have you here, Minda.
Minda Zoloth: Thank you. I’m just really, really honored to be here.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, let’s jump into it. So, Minda, first of all, I think it would be good to tell our listeners about For The Kids. What is it? What do you do? And how does it work?
Minda Zoloth: So, For The Kids is a local nonprofit. We focus on sending food home to kids who would otherwise go without over the weekend. So, they have breakfast and lunch at school but then go home on Saturdays and Sundays with no food in their cupboard. Back in 2012, I was reading a People magazine article, and it said, “Oh, how would you like to help people, locally?” Then they gave a lot of different options, and I said, “Gosh, I could do that.” So, we started out putting together 50 bags of food out of a closet at one of the hotels that I managed. And we sent those 50 bags home every week. And in those bags are two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, and two snacks to get them through both Saturday and Sunday. And that sort of grew and we incorporated a mentoring and developing program as well. So, we help teachers by helping read in the classroom with reading comprehension. And we also have a local baseball team and we offset costs for them to play sports as well. So, we’re well-rounded.
Steve Shallenberger: And is the baseball team, the kids? Who participates in the sports?
Minda Zoloth: So, the baseball team is actually called the Rose Park Panthers. And they’re in the Rose Park area, which is also the area where our schools are. They are just local elementary and middle school kids who want to learn a sport but don’t have the funds to pay for the equipment or to learn a skill set to actually become on a team. And so we cover that.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that is great. Now, we just finished with the Thanksgiving holiday this last week. So, can you explain to our listeners what your Thanksgiving Day holiday was like? Give us the whole rundown.
Minda Zoloth: Oh, my goodness, I think I just woke up from my nap from that. I needed a rest from all that. On top of delivering 350 meals a week, we also cover all the holidays where the kids are off, where they don’t have access to school meals, and that includes Thanksgiving. We just finished, as you mentioned. Just a little backstory, we started out with five turkeys. And then we got up to full turkey meals. And then we got to 50, and that includes the frozen turkey, the stuffing, the potatoes, the corn, the cranberry sauce, a tin as well to cook the turkey in. And then right before COVID, we were up to 600 full meals that we handed out. And then COVID happened. And last year, we knew the need would be so much greater. And we went to our donors and our volunteers and said, “Let’s see what we can do.” And we ended up doing 910 last year. And this year, we said, “Can we do better?” And so we got together 1,200 full meals, and we handed those out in five different schools in the Salt Lake City in Rose Park area. And they can take that home and have a full cooked meal with their family. It’s really amazing.
Steve Shallenberger: So, what was it like? How did you mobilize all these forces to make it happen? Because you can’t do it all, right?
Minda Zoloth: Well, first of all, I did deliver 100 turkeys to the wrong school. So, just a slight error there. But aside from that, basically, we fundraised for it, we had companies that donated, we had foundations that donated, we had small individual groups of people who said, “I’m gonna to bring you [09:03 inaudible] and stuffing.” Two big companies that said, “I want to take care of all the corn that you need.” It was amazing. And so, basically, we knew which school was getting how many meals and we counted and separated by school. And then we had people come and load their cars for each specific school. And then we have different companies and different volunteers that were assigned to each school. Basically, it’s an assembly line, and they line them all up and they make sure every single meal matches and it’s the same. And then we put them together in a bag and we hand them out as the cars pull up. It’s the most rewarding feeling to sit down at your dinner table on Thanksgiving and know that basically 6,000 people approximately had a full hot and traditional Thanksgiving meal because so many people cared.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that is so amazing. What a great feeling, isn’t it?
Minda Zoloth: It brings tears. It’s indescribable, really.
Steve Shallenberger: Did you do this on Thanksgiving day or the day before? How did you logistically have people pick things up?
Minda Zoloth: So, turkeys are frozen. We did four schools on Monday and the fifth school on Tuesday because they still need time to go home and thought properly.
Steve Shallenberger: All right, well, that’s great. Well, thank you for sharing that. Now, Minda, on the plane, when we were together, you shared about your background. And so today, would you mind sharing what your background was like and really what inspired the amazing community service that you founded today?
Minda Zoloth: Growing up, I had a mother and a father. But at a very young age, my father left and went back to the Philippines to where he was born. And it left my mom as a single mom. And from there, five years old, we fell on difficult times. We were in the same situation as these children that we are now supporting. And growing up, I knew that I wanted to get out of the cycle that I was born into, but I didn’t know how. So, I started off by knowing what not to do: not to make bad choices, not to do drugs, make sure I make the right choices, I go to school. I make the harder choices, which is not always the fun ones. I knew that if I got myself out of the cycle, that I would help, and specifically towards children. My passion is to help children also break the cycle. Because it’s not just about the food, it’s actually bigger than that. It’s about giving kids hope. And you give kids hope by showing them that people care.
Steve Shallenberger: And as you think about being younger, how did you come up with the idea to get out of that cycle? Do you remember that by any chance? Did you have influences in your life for what directed you in that way?
Minda Zoloth: So, I knew more of what I didn’t want to do – I didn’t want to stay. My mom tried very hard, and she was a hard worker. I didn’t want that for my life. I wanted to work hard. I just didn’t want to work hard and struggle, and then have children who would struggle. So, I really focused on what I didn’t want in life because I didn’t even know what I wanted because I wasn’t exposed to going to school, I wasn’t exposed to nice things, I wasn’t exposed to a fridge that you just opened up readily and had whatever you wanted. So I didn’t even know what that was. So I focused more on what I was exposed to every day, which I knew I didn’t want. And then like I said, my biggest thing was making the right choices. I worked really hard. I became a general manager of a hotel at 27 years old. And I did that working hard. And I worked my way up and eventually worked for three different hotel chains. I was a general manager for 17 years. And then I just used that position in the community – knowing people and having an influence on people – to being able to help children. And that’s really where my passion lies.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s a great story. You’ve been there, haven’t you, Minda? You know what it’s like so you can relate.
Minda Zoloth: I really can. And if I can make a difference myself and all the people that are involved with For The Kids make a difference in one kid’s life where they break a cycle, then everything was worth it.
Steve Shallenberger: Amen. Minda, what are some of your key lessons learned professionally? You mentioned that you’ve managed hotels, and now you’re playing a key role, an executive role, and working with hotels that have helped you be successful in business and in your efforts with For The Kids.
Minda Zoloth: I had some hard lessons starting out at 27 years old and being the general manager of a hotel. It was 155-room hotel with 4,000 square foot of meeting space and 60 employees when I was 29, that was my second hotel. And I didn’t learn this lesson early on. I wish I would have learned it earlier. But one of the biggest lessons I learned in the hotel portion of my world is I was managing and not leading. And a lot of that has to do with your delivery. And my delivery a lot of times was “Here’s the task. Let’s get it done.” I’m very task-driven. And I learned over time that people do much better by leading them, meaning, “Let’s get your input. Here’s the goal, here’s what we want to complete. What’s your best asset to contribute to getting there?” Instead of just telling people, “This is what we need to get done. You do this, you do this, you do that.” You just get so much farther when people have a buy-in, and you get a buy-in by leading and not just managing people. That was my biggest lesson. And it was a hard lesson. I learned that by being told that someone didn’t think I was doing a very good job managing people. So, it was a hard lesson.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s good. What a big difference. That is huge. There is a big difference between leadership and management. They’re both required, and it’s knowing how to bring the best out in people. And that’s really what you’re talking about here, isn’t it?
Minda Zoloth: It really is. Everybody has their own qualities – the things they do well. And if you take time to learn what those are, then the whole team does so much better. And usually, the goal is reached faster, and then people get to learn from other people’s talents.
Steve Shallenberger: Now, you alluded to this a little bit. Do you have an experience or two on how you learned those lessons?
Minda Zoloth: Well, it was interesting. I had a Front Desk Agent come to me once and say, “You know, I feel like your delivery isn’t great.” And I’m like, “My delivery? What does that mean, exactly?” And it’s funny because she was much younger than me. And I don’t remember the time it was but she said, “You want us to do XYZ?” And I said, “Yes.” And she said, “Well, to get there, you just come and tell us, ‘You do this, you do that, you do this.’ And honestly, we left and we thought, ‘Well, she told me to do this but I actually want to do what you’re doing.’ And the other person was like, ‘Well, I want to do what you’re doing.’” And she goes, “So, I want to come to you and tell you that if your delivery was better, if it was softer, if it was, ‘Hey, listen, this is what the tasks that we have at hand. These are the things that we need to get done. Who’s interested in what?’” She said, “Then we would have actually enjoyed this a lot better. We would have done a better job. And instead, it was really frustrating and I need to give you some feedback on that.” I think it’s hard to get feedback like that. I’m not going to tell you at that moment, I was like, “Oh, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I’m gonna do better.” But you know what? That person was 100% correct. And when I did accept that feedback, I became a much better person to work with and work for.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s a great story. It’s so interesting because being a leader really does require humility. Because if you’re arrogant and you think you’ve got it all down, so many things can go right past you and really sub-optimized. But when you’re humble, you’re open to other ideas and thoughts. And of course, you have your own experiences, but it’s learning and it’s this whole idea of what you talked about earlier, how do we make our good better? And how do we make our better best? Well, it’s a team effort, isn’t it?
Minda Zoloth: Absolutely. Biggest and hardest lesson but best lesson I’ve ever learned in my hotel job.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s a good one. Now, if you had the chance, Minda, to sit down with someone who’s just joining your team, what would be one or two things that you would say to them about what it means to be a great team member?
Minda Zoloth: Well, I think in both the hotel world and the nonprofit world, that the number one thing is being there for each other. Of course, we like to respect everybody’s time off. But if it’s something that’s very important and something that needs to get done, I think being able to rely on each other and have each other’s backs is very important. If one person can’t do a certain task, then somebody can step in and help. I think that creating that environment where myself, I, do as much work, and typically more, than I would ever expect anyone else to do. And that creates an environment that people feel safe and they feel like it’s a team effort. I would say that is one of the biggest things. And with the nonprofit, I think especially, a lot of times it’s hard for people to call on people and ask for a food donation; “We’re a nonprofit. We’re looking for in-kind donation. Is your company or church wanting to do a food drive? And can I tell you a little bit about For The Kids?” And that’s the number one thing people don’t like to do. And what I tell new people is, “Listen, in the end, when everything is said and done and the day’s done, we’re doing it to help children.” And that makes even the hardest tasks a lot easier.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, isn’t that powerful when people can capture a vision of why we’re doing something?
Minda Zoloth: It makes all the difference in the world.
Steve Shallenberger: Good for you. That’s one of the things highly successful leaders do is they lead with a vision. And if people can keep that in mind where they’re going, that really adds motivation, and determination, and focus and helps them do some of the harder things.
Minda Zoloth: I agree. I completely agree.
Steve Shallenberger: Now, as you reflect a little bit on the personal side, you’ve had quite a background and you’ve traveled a really inspirational pathway, what are two or three things that represent your biggest lessons learned in life?
Minda Zoloth: Well, I’ll tell you a secret. I have a fear of public speaking, which would include this podcast. I think I told you that on the plane. So, one of my biggest lessons learned in life, one of them would be surrounded by that. It’s what people call their comfort zone. And I am very much in my comfort zone when I’m not public speaking. However, I learned early on that I can help more children by meeting people like you who give me the opportunity to do the thing that I would prefer, or more like, scared to do. And that if I get out of my comfort zone and I say yes to things like this, I can really help people understand that there are hungry kids in all of our backyards. And if I stay in my comfort zone, and I said no to you because I would rather get a root canal than speak in public, then all these people that are going to listen to this podcast – not all of them, but some of them – believe it or not, wouldn’t know that there is such a huge hunger issue right where you live. And I think it’s my duty to step out of that zone. And it’s a life lesson I actually work on anytime I’m asked to speak, I do it because it makes a difference in the world. It’s important to take that lesson and say, “Each time I’ll try to do a little bit better.” It doesn’t really get any easier but I know that it’s making a difference.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, for what it’s worth, Minda, you’ve done a great job.
Minda Zoloth: Thank you. I would say the other thing that I learned is that, do what you can to help. And for a while there, it became difficult because we were helping and then there’s so many hungry kids still. And you think, “Okay, what can we do about that?” And the thing that you can do is just continue to teach people that they can get involved and they can help. That’s been hard for me because I am more of a quiet giver. I’m more of a [23:30 inaudible] boots on the ground in the background. But really trying to encourage people to do what’s passionate for them. And like you said, becoming your best, in your life and that helps other people.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I love the fact that you shared that. So, thank you. It just reminds me of another great leader, Dieter Uchtdorf, who I’ve had the chance to work with and a wonderful friend and inspiration, once said, “Never overestimate your importance, but never underestimate your influence.” Isn’t that awesome? Just in simple ways you can make such a difference. And you’re doing that. Each one of us can do that. That’s really the inspiration and example of this podcast today that each of us, in our own way, has a chance to help lift and build other people. And you’ve found ways to do that. And we all do it uniquely from our own set of experiences. And so that’s really great going.
Minda Zoloth: Well, thank you, I think it’s so important that people find what they’re passionate about, and go out there and help make a difference.
Steve Shallenberger: Now, just before we wrap it up, what do you see in the future? All right. Just sit back here, and we’re just sinking together as friends and you’re thinking about for the kids, what do you hope will happen in the next five and 10 years?
Minda Zoloth: Big dream would be that we don’t have hungry kids in our country, which I know isn’t going to happen. So, the next one for that would be that we just keep feeding more kids, we put more food in the bags, we help more children. And bigger than that, as I mentioned before, is really giving kids hope because the goal is to meet their immediate need, their basic need of food. But they really need more than that to get out of this situation that they were born into. And people have to care enough to show that to these kids. And you do that by volunteering your time, donating, spending time with kids who have needs. And if we can do that, I really truly believe that hope can change a life. And that it’s our duty to try to help the younger generation who are struggling to have that feeling inside that someone cares about them. And doing that by giving up yourself.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that is great. I love that answer. Think about the power of that and changing one life at a time and giving them hope and helping people see like you did of living a better life, of making a difference, of leaving the world a better place. So, thank you for that inspiration. So, Minda, how can people find out about what you’re doing?
Minda Zoloth: First of all, they can find out by sitting next to you on an airplane and getting on a podcast like this. I mean, honestly, for my husband to sit next to you twice – and he hadn’t even flown since then – in the same row, I believe things happen for a reason. So, I just want to thank you for giving me the opportunity, for caring about kids and about nonprofits and about making a difference in the world because a lot of people will hear this and will learn about For the Kids. I’m grateful for that and I want to thank you for that. But they go to our website, it’s ForTheKids.org. It tells all about how we started and it goes into detail. We are a great local nonprofit to actually see where the food goes whether you volunteer your time or funds, you can come and pack bags, you can bring kids. One of the things that I love the most is children helping children. And we have local food storage here just north of Salt Lake and we pack bags every week. And people can go on our website and look up how to volunteer and how to donate.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, Minda, thank you for being with us today.
Minda Zoloth: Thank you so much, Steve.
Steve Shallenberger: What an inspirational visit this has been. We wish all of you all the best as you too are making a difference in the world for good. So, thank you for listening and blessing so many other people in the process. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership wishing you a great day.