Jenifer Loon will become the eighth person to lead PROP in its 50-year history.
The former Minnesota state representative from Eden Prairie will take over as PROP’s executive director on Jan. 1, 2022. She will replace Janet Palmer, retiring at the end of the year after being executive director since 2015.
Loon, an Eden Prairie resident for 23 years, said she is thrilled and humbled to help lead PROP into its next 50 years of “compassionate service to others.”
Founded in 1971 on the principle of neighbors helping neighbors, PROP (the acronym for People Reaching Out to People) does so by donating time, food and money to those in need.
“It’s a place whose values really resonate with my personal values,” Loon said. “And it’s where I can give back and continue to be a servant leader in the community.”
Loon has been on the PROP Board of Directors since 2015, serving as chair last year. She and her husband Doug have two adult daughters.
“As a member of its board for the past seven years, it has been a joy to tell PROP’s story and share the commitment that so many dedicated volunteers and staff have made over the years to ensure food, support and hope is shared in abundance with our neighbors in need,” she said in a statement.
Loon talked about her new role at PROP’s offices, 14700 Martin Drive, on Tuesday, Nov. 30.
“What happens here in this building, who we serve, how they do it, it just checked a lot of boxes for me in terms of things I would love to do,” she said.
And, Loon noted that PROP is more than just the food shelf. Many people, she added, aren’t aware of that.
“Obviously, food is our core mission and how we started,” she said. “But we do a lot in terms of counseling people and helping them access other things they may need.”
Loon said serving in elected office is one of the best experiences she has ever had.
From 2009 to 2019, the Republican was the Minnesota state representative for District 48B, primarily representing Eden Prairie.
“I worked hard at being a good representative for all citizens and enjoyed the service and responsibilities immensely,” she said. “After 10 years in office, I have found new ways to serve others in the community, and becoming the new executive director for PROP is a humbling and exciting opportunity to continue my servant leadership.”
Focusing her attention on PROP
To devote herself to her new role, Loon will leave her current job at the end of the year and step aside from some of her other volunteer work.
Loon is currently senior advisor for policy and strategy at EdAllies, a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization that works on education policy reform in the state.
She is also leaving her volunteer role as president and CEO of Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) at the end of the year. The mission of EPLN is to provide independent, non-partisan, hyperlocal news to the Eden Prairie community.
“It’s a big job (being PROP’s executive director), and I want to make sure I’m devoting time to it,” Loon said. “I was able to do a lot of volunteer work while I have been in my current position, mostly because it’s been virtual. Honestly, I would say that’s one upside of the whole virtual office thing is that I can spend some time on volunteer work.”
Her other volunteer work includes serving as the current Eden Prairie AM Rotary Club president until the end of June 2022. She also is on the boards of Community School of Excellence, a St. Paul charter school, and Elevating Education MN.
“I will have to divest myself of a lot of what I call my extracurriculars,” she said. “But, I like volunteering, I like being of service, I like contributing wherever I can, and I have a lot of interests. Education obviously has been a key interest of mine.”
Dealing with the pandemic
Palmer, who began with PROP in 2008 as the operations manager, said in a statement that she was proud of how PROP continues to evolve by always putting clients’ best interests in the forefront.
“For example, we have placed increased importance on healthy fresh foods and more client choices in our market,” she said. “We’ve worked hard to ensure everyone in our community feels welcome.”
Palmer thanked the resilience and hard work of the staff and volunteers for keeping PROP going through the pandemic by embracing new ways of operating.
“We had to quickly pivot, and Janet (Palmer) was just amazing at that,” said Loon, who was board chair when the pandemic hit. “This place was not closed a day with the pandemic. They made adjustments.”
Those adjustments included providing curbside food service, expanding food delivery through a partnership with SouthWest Transit, sourcing food from new vendors, and remotely continuing its financial services and case management.
“What we learned will benefit the organization as it moves forward,” Palmer said.