Commitment from Day One: Saffron’s Vision of a Thriving Nebraska Begins with Her Child…and Everyone Else’s…
The day Saffron Buettner brought her infant daughter home from the hospital, she ironically planned an exit strategy: to one day get her child out of the house.
This objective isn’t what it sounds like. Saffron cherishes her children, those aren’t her own, and those who care for them. Having been an early childhood teacher and caregiver herself, she exhibits that passion through her professional expertise. Today Saffron is a coach, trainer, and consultant for early childhood programs.
Saffron had a compelling reason to set her daughter free. She believes the greatest gift one can give one’s child, and the world is the gift of self-sufficiency.
“We need to help adults [to] empower kids,” said Saffron. “We need to help [kids] become successful parts of society, and feed their brains, and bread and milk is part of that!”
For Saffron, we need a community, positive engagement, quality programs, and proper diets to create thriving citizens out of our children. Her team and her area’s early care providers likely all agree.
Perhaps most importantly is Saffron’s desire to send another equally powerful message: the recent successful efforts she’s led are due to the help of an equally talented team of community members whom she values immensely.
Essentials Become Commodities: Early Care Providers’ Struggle
A few weeks ago, when Saffron caught wind that childcare providers were struggling to find basics including sanitizer, milk, and bread, she and her team of dedicated fellow community members were determined to help.
Initially, she was surprised that the providers’ biggest challenge was the scarcity of household supplies. She and team knew that early childhood programs faced difficulties, just not the ones she’d expected.
“My main concern at first was our early providers’ mental health,” she said. “But after calling them, they said they needed product, so we shifted to that quickly.”
Before her mission to find milk and bread, Saffron said she and her cohort were thrown another curveball. Whereas she had assumed that providers would need educational materials as well, their needs were more complicated than that.
“They didn’t need educational materials. They have support for their early [participants] but not for elementary school kids. [School-age children] are now coming [to the providers’ programs] and saying, ‘We have to log in to school.’”
Saffron said providers who care for school-age children now face another unanticipated challenge: to learn the intricacies of online educational platforms.
“Providers aren’t yet familiar with e-learning,” she said. “I have given them YouTube links to resources for the e-learning process.”
Although Saffron said she can’t hold a webinar due to time constraints, she told the providers that if they need help with e-learning, they should reach out.
Still, she and her group of community helpers had to clear the ultimate hurdle. When Saffron and other involved community members caught wind that the area providers lacked essentials such as milk and bread, she strengthened the preexisting bridge of communication.
Two Weeks Out: How Saffron Reached out to 89 Providers
Saffron said that slowly but surely, over the course of several years, she and her team have worked to create a collaborative partnership with the area’s licensed providers.
Some of this support has included sharing information about the various grant programs and community support networks to provide learning and advocacy opportunities for these providers.
Saffron said ideally, she envisions her team and early care providers to obtain a mutual, understanding and sharing of a common goal: quality care for all our children.
“We are truly equals all working toward a common goal,” she said. Saffron said that over time, she and the local childcare providers have worked towards establishing trust.
“Grand Island’s had trouble getting provider buy-in to show that our goal is quality care,” she said. “Before [some childcare centers] weren’t sure what the benefits were. We were trying to get them to see we are for them. We’re not some big ogres telling them what to do.”
Saffron said this further unification between her organization and early care workers has been one positive thing that has emerged from COVID-19’s chaos.
First thing’s first, though. Saffron and her comrades needed to figure out who needed which essentials. To offer support, she and another volunteer contacted every provider in the area. This was no small feat, but she was not discouraged.
Saffron and her fellow team member set out to find the best method of communication. After some Facebook Messenger sleuthing, they managed to find all 89 of the early care centers in her area.
“I’ve probably spoken to 75 of them,” she said. “We now have ALL their emails on our roster; we can communicate with all of them. I’ve never had this [information] before.”
Once Saffron contacted each center, she recorded each early care worker’s preferred method of contact. Some preferred text, some email, some Facebook.
When asked how she kept that information straight and planned a massive milk-and-bread mission, Saffron said “I’m an organizer. I know how to plan big events.”
A seasoned coordinator, Saffron worked for six years as a preschool ministries’ coordinator. Every year, one of her most responsibilities included strategizing and spearheading a weeklong Bible School for preschool-aged children. The trips consisted of 100 children and 50 staff.
“This is where many of my organizational skills were refined,” said Saffron, “Especially event planning.”
“Was it stressful?” said Saffron about her milk-and-bread planning process. “Not really. Was it overwhelming? Not really.”
Planning and Preparation: Saffron Talks Organizational Techniques
From there, organization and level-headedness propelled Saffron and her fellow community members forward. After doing the math, she concluded that 60-70 providers needed 175-gallons of milk and 175-loaves of bread.
She and Grand Island Public Schools’ staff delivered a great example of positive change through community engagement. Armed with volunteers from the public-school system, Saffron assigned everyone a schedule.
“I had delivery people and backup,” she said.
After drawing up the pick-up-and-drop-off plans, Saffron and her cohort were faced with the most challenging part of the mission: to find the once common, now-precious essentials of milk and bread.
Saffron’s prior compilation of provider contact information – which was no picnic – appeared to be the easy part.
“It took a week to find milk and bread,” she said. “I called distributors and bakeries. I googled ‘bakeries near me.’ I knew exactly what kind of milk I needed.”
Initially, Saffron saw mixed results. She thought she’d found milk, but by the end of the workweek, still not a slice of bread in sight.
She decided to expand her search and contact wholesale distributors. She said the man with whom she spoke did find bread. “I don’t know what mountains he moved!” she said.
Although she did not take that distributor up on the offer, she said she’s amazed at his kindness.
After a few more false starts, a lack of responses, and several refusals, on a whim, Saffron set out to Hy-Vee and told the grocers about her plan. 24 hours later, Hy-Vee staff called and agreed to help. They’d ordered 175-gallons of milk and 175 loaves of bread.
“You know how they have trays of bread?” said Saffron about the standard grocery store display, “[Hy-Vee staff] brought out a tray taller than me – that was all of our bread and milk!”
Two Weeks Later: What’s Happened?
By April 3, a little over two weeks from the day she began her search, Saffron emerged triumphantly, and had the products and team to show for it.
From there, she and her fellow community supporters executed other logistics. From scheduling her volunteer’s Hy-Vee pick-up shifts to tailoring deliveries to the providers’ schedules, Saffron and other volunteers continued to solidify the details.
“We had one person at Hy-Vee from our leadership [team],” she said. “I did shifts, and so did other people from 8 am to 11 am, then 2 pm to 5 pm.”
Saffron said she created this schedule to take childcare centers’ lunchtime and naptime into consideration.
“It worked out well,” she said. “The providers were glad naptime wasn’t interrupted.”
Thereafter, volunteers dropped off supplies at the centers’ doors to adhere to social-distancing best practices.
“I said, ‘We love you; we just don’t want to see you. We’d like to give you this product’,” said Saffron, regarding maintaining a safe, healthy distance.
When asked how she managed to plan this intricate drop-off to about 70 providers, Saffron revealed part of her method.
“Not everyone runs a spreadsheet like I do,” she said, laughing. She explained that she treated her database as a growing, breathing document, adding tabs and columns as the project grew in scope.
Saffron said a lot of her past professional experiences, including that of telemarketing, helped her reach out and maintain contacts with all area providers. When it comes to providing help, Saffron doesn’t accept “no” for an answer.
“Some childcare centers were closed,” she said regarding those facilities who said they didn’t need supplies.
“I said, ‘We’d like to express appreciation for the way you’re going above and beyond.’ If they still said no? I asked if I could stay in contact.”
Saffron added their information to her growing datasheet and moved along.
Aside from not taking “no” for an answer when she offers support, Saffron doesn’t accept the notion of hungry children, either.
When one childcare provider said she couldn’t give second helpings to her attendees, thus resulting in hungry children, Saffron and her team was quick to respond.
“I said, ‘You’re getting all the bread and milk you need.’ [The provider] wasn’t sure her food would last for the week! The center was serving 40-60 kids that are ages birth through elementary. The USDA guidelines [for servings and portions] are small. Some kids will process food quicker and need more nutrients,” said Saffron. “We need to take care of my kiddos!”
Their Children, Our Children: Is there a Difference?
When Saffron said, “We need to take care of my kiddos,” this statement is telling. She and her community in Grand Island recognize that, whether you have children or not, whether these are your kids or not, the youngest members of our community and their caregivers are our families, too, in a greater sense. What happens to someone else happens to us. A hungry child may not be set up to thrive.
A caregiver without bread and milk may not remain open for essential workers’ children. Those workers may then be unable to work and cannot sustain our economy. The pattern is cyclical and begins with bread and milk. In the same way we can break a negative cycle, we can restore order to chaos: it all begins with bread and milk.
Saffron’s parting words restated that it took a community to foster change.
“I really desire that people to understand what we are doing in Grand Island is a team effort,” Saffron added. “I just happened to be the lead on this particular project.”