Rising Stars: Whitney Sanger, of Travel Dubuque

Whitney Sanger, with Travel Dubuque and Project Rooted, is a 2020 Rising Star. PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica Reilly Telegraph Herald

Whitney Sanger, 30, saw an opportunity to make a positive impact during a community crisis.

In February, she and local chef Kevin Scharpf incorporated Project Rooted, a nonprofit aimed at connecting children with all aspects of healthy food and nutrition.

Barely a month later, they saw am immediate need for their efforts as COVID-19 concerns began upending daily life. Sanger said she assumed local schools would soon close, and some families might struggle with feeding children now at home.

“As a mom of four, I was thinking, ‘What are all of these families going to do?” she said.

Project Rooted decided to offer free healthy lunches for any children who needed it, and the response was staggering. The Facebook post announcing the program was shared more than 1,000 times, and analytics showed it reached about 100,000 people.

She, Scharpf and Project Rooted’s board members immediately got to work on how to meet such a high demand.

“All said and done, over the course of 10 weeks, we ended up providing 35,000 lunches out into the community,” she said.

Every lunch was made from scratch, and Project Rooted sourced its ingredients from local farmers as much as possible to support that struggling community too. Children also received notes of encouragement with the meals.

Her nominator, Bobbi Earles, said Sanger is a born leader who cares deeply for helping others.

“I am in awe of the quick thinking and dedication Whitney has to people she does not know,” Earles wrote. “She is a role model to us all.”

Sanger’s love of her hometown also inspired her career as sales manager for Travel Dubuque. She said the job fits her personality well.

“I’m that type of person where, if I see a tourist walking the street and they look confused or they’re trying to find something, I’m the first person to go up to them and introduce myself and really share what Dubuque is all about,” she said.

Sanger also is active with Young Professionals Dubuque. Her civic mindedness is influenced by her grandfather’s example.

“One of the things he always said was, ‘What you do for yourself dies with you, but what you do for others goes on for eternity,’” she said.

“If there is anything that I’ve learned through all of this is to keep a positive outlook on anything that I do. And anytime I find myself having those negative thoughts, just (reminding myself) to change my perspective on it, and it really has made a huge difference. And I think that’s what’s driven some of my successes, is taking bad situations and finding a way to make them good.”