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Cultivating Compassion: The Heartbeat of Katie’s Krops

By: Jamie Gapinski

Nestled in the heart of Summerville, South Carolina, Katie’s Krops is more than just a non-profit; it’s a testament to the power of a remarkable mother-daughter duo. Katie Stagliano and her mom, Stacy, are the team behind this dynamic non-profit that fills stomachs and hearts. The journey of Katie’s Krops is a tapestry woven with threads of compassion, the power of love, and an unwavering mother-daughter relationship.

Katie and Stacy’s bond is not merely familial; it’s the heartbeat of an organization that seamlessly blends personal and business aspects. The constructive collaboration between Katie and Stacy has shaped Katie’s Krops into a unique force for good. This is a story of how a young girl’s dream, nurtured by her mother’s unwavering support, blossomed into a nationwide movement with a mission to sow the seeds of change and compassion.

The Cabbage That Started It All

As a third grader, Katie Stagliano embarked on a journey that would sow seeds of colossal compassion and resilience. Her initiation into the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage program at her elementary school marked the beginning of a transformative chapter, where her first dream to grow food for others was cultivated. Guided and supported by her mother, Katie’s early passion for gardening took a sharp, philanthropic turn.

“At the heart of Katie’s Krops is a humble beginning – our backyard,” reflects Stacy. “I vividly recall that day she brought home that tiny cabbage seedling. I was standing outside her third-grade classroom, waiting to pick her up at the end of the day. I was standing there with our son, John Michael, and she stepped out with that tiny peat pot with three tiny green leaves poking out. I never imagined that such an ordinary moment would forever change our lives.”
From one tiny tiny pot, Katie cultivated a mammoth 40-pound cabbage. Motivated to help those in need, she sought Stacy’s approval to donate it. While connecting with Fields to Families, Stacy reached out to Tri-County Ministries, a local soup kitchen in North Charleston, South Carolina. Volunteers there transformed the cabbage into soup, pairing it with ham and rice, and Katie actively served the nourishing meal, feeding 275 people. The impact surpassed immediate sustenance, setting off a transformative chain of events.

“My mom has always been such a big part of Katie’s Krops, from the day I brought home my cabbage seedling to making the call to find a perfect home for my cabbage. At 9 years old, I knew I needed help and guidance to make my dreams a reality and I could not think of a better person than my mom. She instilled a mindset that anything was possible from an early age, and without her, I am confident that Katie’s Krops would not be where it is today,” said Katie. “While my mom helped me get my dream off the ground, it was my dad who reminded us each evening before dinner how fortunate we were to enjoy a nourishing meal and that there were many families who relied on soup kitchens, perhaps for their only meal of the day.”
Witnessing the effect of a single cabbage, she envisioned the potential of an entire garden to alleviate hunger on a broader scale. Approaching Stacy, with the innocence and pure-hearted belief of a child, Katie asked, “We can make that happen, right mom?”

Stacy, recognizing the extraordinary nature of her daughter’s compassion, responded without hesitation.

“God gave her this pure, beautiful heart, and my job as a mom was to foster her God-given gift,” Stacy reflects. In this pivotal moment, the seeds of Katie’s Krops began to sprout not just in the soil but in the shared determination of a mother-daughter team to cultivate positive change.

Nurturing a Dream

“As a little girl with big dreams, no one in my family ever said, ‘You are too young’ or ‘That isn’t possible.’ Instead, she always said, ‘Let’s make this happen!’ Together, we dove headfirst into it, and God guided our way,” said Katie.

Katie’s determination to make a difference crystallized into action as she set out to start a garden. The community rallied, captivated by the young girl’s mission, and soon, more gardens sprouted in tandem. By the time Katie reached fourth grade, her influence had reached the school grounds, where classmates and teachers joined forces to establish another garden. The collective harvests nourished a growing number of people, and Katie’s dream started to become reality.

In Stacy’s reflection, the development of Katie’s Krops unfolded organically, marked by a lack of rigid structure, especially as they balanced regular family demands. The growth of the organization became intertwined with the daily rhythm of life – cultivated during drives to and from school, amidst family dinners, and over frequent phone conversations.

In the first few years of Katie’s Krops, just being a kid and being a kid with a growing, grassroots organization was tricky to balance.

“Did Katie miss a substantial amount of school? Absolutely. But I have always held the belief that while formal education is crucial, the lessons learned outside the classroom carry equal significance,” said Stacy.

From Backyard to Nation

From its modest origins in a backyard, Katie’s Krops has burgeoned into a nationwide movement, with over one hundred gardens currently flourishing across thirty states, all led by youth. Every Katie’s Krops Garden reflects the hands-on commitment of thousands of children working fervently to combat hunger within their communities. The impact of this youth-led initiative is staggering, having grown and donated over a half-million pounds of produce since its inception in 2009. Katie’s Krop’s mission is to “empower youth to start and maintain vegetable gardens and donate the harvest to those in need, as well as assist and inspire others to do the same.”

Katie Stagliano takes immense pride in the dedicated young growers who have contributed to the organization’s remarkable journey. Beyond cultivating gardens, Katie’s Krops fosters community engagement through bi-weekly meal distributions at Summerville Baptist Church, supplying sustenance to anyone in need. This commitment to alleviating food insecurity was underscored in October 2023 when the organization celebrated 13 years of Katie’s Krops Dinners, serving over 105,000 meals to neighbors facing hardships. The exponential growth and impact of Katie’s Krops stand as a testament to the enduring power of youth-driven initiatives and their capacity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those experiencing hunger.

Continuing the Legacy

The bond between Katie and Stacy extends beyond the recognition and high-profile encounters that have dotted the organization’s journey. As they traversed the country for Katie’s awards and national television appearances, the shared experiences became not only a testament to their resilience on the less-traveled path but also a source of immense joy. Stacy, reflecting on their travels, recounted a moment at the Clinton Global Citizen award pre-party where Katie effortlessly engaged with Barbara Streisand and Donna Karan, embodying an ease in any situation. Yet, her personable and humble nature is equally clear at Katie’s Krops Dinners; she intimately knows each guest by name, including their pets, children, struggles, and needs.

As college decisions loomed, Katie’s choice crystallized during a Katie’s Krops Dinner. Guests presented her with an envelope and a small gift box, a heartfelt gesture symbolizing her profound impact on them. Despite limited budgets, they prioritized Katie. This poignant moment solidified her decision to choose the College of Charleston, rooted in a deep community bond. Throughout college, she arranged her schedule around Katie’s Krops Dinners, reflecting her commitment to driving home and prioritizing the community that had made her feel just as significant as she had made them feel.

As the years passed and Katie finished college in 2020, the dynamics of their collaboration naturally evolved. Stacy harbored the constant desire to see Katie’s growth, support the construction of her dream, and someday see her hold the full reins of leadership.

“Support your children, listen to them, let them explore, allow them to find their path, be their cheerleader, wipe their tears when they face bullying for being different, care for them, and foster their well-being,” says Stacy. “My legacy is believing in my daughter and supporting her. I don’t want to call myself a placeholder, but in a way, I am. She has wings, and she has soared.”

In the journey of steering their non-profit towards a brighter future, Katie and Stacy Stagliano have not only forged a professional partnership but also deepened their bond. As Katie eloquently expresses, “Working side by side with your best friend every day is such a blessing, and I feel so lucky to get to do so! There is truly nothing more rewarding than making a difference, and the fact that I get to work with my mom makes it even better!”

Their shared commitment to making a positive impact reflects not only in the success of but also in the enduring strength of their mother-daughter collaboration. Together, they epitomize the transformative power of familial and friendship ties in the pursuit of making their community a better place.

Some of Katie’s favorite memories involve experiencing the world with her mom while sharing her passion for Katie’s Krops. They have had the opportunity to embark on incredible journeys together, such as visiting apple orchards in Washington, a trip to Vancouver, Canada, where they spoke at the Canadian Fresh Produce Show, and attending the Clinton Global Citizen Awards in New York. These experiences brought them face-to-face with inspiring world leaders and changemakers. Those moments are etched in her memory, and having her mom by her side during those significant occasions makes them even more special. But what do they both love the most? The people they serve and the relationships that have come from that.

“My absolute favorite part about working side by side with my mom would be the relationships we’ve created with our dinner guests, the individuals, and families we donate our produce to, and the organizations we partner with. They are truly like a second family to us, and through good times and tough times, we have created such a wonderful bond and have such love for each other.”