Faces in Business: Theresa Caldwell, executive director of the Dubuque Food Pantry

Theresa M. Caldwell is a lifelong resident of Dubuque. From 1993 until 2016, she owned and operated Son Made Cleaning Service. In October 1997, she purchased the home she grew up in.

She serves on the Steeple Square Board of Directors, as well as Dubuque Area Congregations United. She has one son, a daughter-in-law, a granddaughter and a grandson who live in Epworth.

Tell us about your field and what attracted you to it.

In 2007, I was nominated to become a board member for the Dubuque Food Pantry. I served for 8½ years. Then I applied for the manager position in 2016 when the manager retired. I enjoyed filling in for her and thought I’d like to do the job full time.

Are there a person or people who have had a tremendous impact on you?

Former and present board members who have believed in me and my ability to lead have affected me greatly.

Do you have any advice for young people and/or new graduates?

My advice to young people is to find out what things make you feel fulfilled and add your natural God-gifted talents to it. And you will love your job.

Is there a story or an anecdote that illustrates your philosophy either in life or in your chosen field?

The very first grant that I ever wrote was in August of 2016. I was contacted by a foundation that asked why I did not submit a grant request. I asked when it was due and she said, “At midnight tonight.” I wrote the grant and had it in on time. Two weeks later, three of their board members walked into the Dubuque Food Pantry and handed me a check for the total request.

What have you found to be the most valuable resource for learning? Are you an on-the-job learner or do you prefer another way?

I really am an on-the-job learner. Growing the Dubuque Food Pantry has been very rewarding.

Math vs. creativity. People person vs. introvert. Slow and steady vs. quick and nimble. Where do you fall on those divides? Do you believe there even is a divide?

Each day is different at the DFP. It’s been a walk of patience being in the lead, as I am continually looking at how we can grow and reach the underserved, sustainably.

When you think of the future, what kind of changes would you like to see in your field? In the broader world?

When I think of the future. I’d like to see more nonprofits do what they do best, instead of trying to do everything.

How has your professional life helped you grow as a person?

I have seen some of our most vulnerable members of our community for many years. It helps me have more compassion and empathy for others.

We recently had a woman who had been homeless with her three children for three weeks. She just got a place to stay and had no food. She burst into tears five times as I took her shopping. She got numerous hugs from her 2-year-old daughter. And her and her mom got a couple hugs from me, too. I love my job.

How do you strike a work/life balance?

I try to make sure that I am doing things that I enjoy when outside of work.