Samantha Glenn has always loved food. “I started a restaurant in our garage when I was six,” she says. “I pulled the patio furniture into the garage and sold Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese and grilled cheese for 25 cents.” From this auspicious start, she honed her skills in the kitchen and then earned a degree in nutrition from Arizona State. A few jobs and internships later, she landed a gig in 2017 with a start-up called Peak Refreshments, which provides grab-and-go meals, snacks, and beverages at self-service kiosks in hundreds of offices and break rooms across the Denver metro area.
“Initially, I called the owners and said, ‘Could I have an interview? I’m interested in your concept,’” Samantha says. “It worked out really well because I was comfortable with an evolving situation. I love being part of the [company’s] building process.” Today, Samantha is the company’s strategist, which means she solves problems, builds scale, oversees managers, and improves business practices, all skills that came in very handy when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in spring 2020 and people stopped going to offices — which meant they stopped buying Peak Refreshments’ inventory.
Revenue dropped 60 percent almost overnight, Samantha says. “We began asking [each other], ‘What can we do differently?’” After much brainstorming, they settled on a concept called Modern Plate, which creates, sells, and delivers frozen family-style meals to customers. Peak Refreshments had a pipeline of food they’d already ordered; they had a kitchen and staff who suddenly had time to test recipes and brainstorm a menu. How would they set themselves apart from Stouffer’s lasagna? Which foods don’t lose their lusciousness in the process of freezing and reheating? Does anyone even want polenta?
As Samantha and her team were strategizing their response, she was also in the final few months of Denver Institute for Faith & Work’s 5280 Fellowship, a nine-month spiritual and professional development program for Christians in the Denver area.
As part of the Fellowship, “we ask people to be both prophetic and creative,” says Brian Gray, director of the 5280 Fellowship. Samantha began thinking about food stewardship – namely, how to donate uneaten meals and snacks to people who needed them.
“We ask them to identify what’s broken and in need of redemption —that’s the prophetic part. The creative side is to be solutions-oriented. Part of Christian faithful presence in a company is to be creative, an act that reflects God’s creativity.”
The Fellowship is designed for early- to mid-career professionals who seek theological equipment for their work. “We are really committed to the long game in and for the city of Denver,” Gray says. Through small-group discussion, retreats, self-directed reflection and spiritual practice, formal teaching, and mentorship from leaders in various professions, Fellows gain a framework that helps them see work as a place of worship, mission, and formation that very much matters to God’s Kingdom. “Redemption isn’t just soul salvation. It’s seeing small, broken things that can be enhanced to create human flourishing. We’re after that long, faithful obedience in the same direction and one that’s public. That’s a long-term strategy of loving your neighbor.”
Fueled by these ideas of redemption and faithfulness, Samantha began thinking about food stewardship — namely, how to donate Peak Refreshments’ uneaten meals and snacks to people who needed them. “Food waste is a huge deal in our country, especially in light of so many food-insecure people [in our community],” she says. The technical issue was one of refrigeration: “We hadn’t been donating food because we thought there were too many touch points where temperature control wasn’t possible [in transporting food from kiosks to nonprofit partners].”
To date, Peak Refreshments has provided more than 20,000 meals to hungry neighbors, thanks to Samantha’s diligence and problem solving.
Through a few updated procedures and the use of Wi-Fi devices that monitor food temperature through every step of its movement from kitchen to consumer, and with a little help from Brian in connecting with local nonprofit partners, Samantha built a system for donating food. To date, Peak Refreshments has provided more than 20,000 meals to hungry neighbors, thanks to Samantha’s diligence and problem-solving. “This exercise in thinking well about stewardship certainly fueled the development of Modern Plate,” Samantha says.
Not only did Peak Refreshments pivot to keep employees working, it also took a wise gamble on frozen meals, which are less likely to go into the garbage than fresh foods if a family’s plans for dinner change. “There’s less food waste on our end and on the consumer end,” she explains. Plus, her team was up for the challenge of making delicious fare that tastes like it came from your favorite fine-dining establishment.
So for Samantha, the Fellowship facilitated not just solutions to problems, but also a greater sense of purpose in her work. “I have a renewed spirit at work,” she says. “[Before the Fellowship], the struggles of this career path seemed unglorifying to God because at the end of the day, was I just selling Snickers bars to people? Is that the most honoring thing to God?” But, she says, she now sees herself as a person who creates alongside the Creator. “Now I feel motivated to enact change where I can, and I know why it matters to God and my city.”