MANKATO – Soybean oil is a component in a myriad of products, from food to fuel to crayons. But Christina Heineken Woodlee of The Bridge for Youth had no idea this Minnesota-grown commodity could also be converted into sustainable tires. At least she didn’t until she received notice that the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) elected to donate a set to soy-based tires to her organization. The Bridge for Youth is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that helps connect with the thousands of minors and young adults facing homelessness and home-instability throughout Minnesota.
“I knew a little bit about soybeans, but I didn’t know they could be used to make tires,” Heineken Woodlee said. “I was like, ‘This is pretty cool!’” I usually cook with soybean oil, so when I heard about this donation, I thought, ‘I have that in my kitchen.’”
The Council is donating the set of Goodyear tires to “The Bridge” to wrap up its summer-long ‘Driving Soy’ campaign, which highlighted value-added soybean products. Throughout the summer, Minnesota’s 44 organized soybean counties (Minnesota is the only state to support such a program) donated tires to their local law enforcement agencies. MSR&PC also held a Nominate a Nonprofit online campaign to allow the farming audience a chance to submit on behalf of a deserving nonprofit.
“The ‘Driving Soy’ mission has achieved multiple goals,” MSR&PC Chair Joe Serbus said. “Our farmer-led county boards were able to reconnect with their communities and promote the commodities they grow. We were also able to thank first responders for keeping us safe, and finally, this gave us the opportunity to recognize the valuable work nonprofits are doing for those who need a helping hand.”
MSR&PC is the 15-seat, elected board of soybean producers from Minnesota who direct soybean checkoff investments toward programs designed to increase the profitability for the state’s nearly 28,000 soybean farmers. The soybean checkoff is federally mandated by the Soybean Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act. Every time a Minnesota soybean farmer sells soybeans, one half of one percent of the market price is checked off. Half of the checkoff is utilized by Minnesota, while the other half is utilized by the United Soybean Board. Checkoff resources are used to promote, educate and develop market opportunities for soybeans.
‘A beautiful surprise’
Beth Gasser of Vivid Image, and her colleague, Amber Erickson, both nominated The Bridge for Youth, which was established in 1970 by a pair of local activists from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
“I’m truly moved by The Bridge’s relentless compassion for marginalized youth and their commitment to show up where, when and how they are needed most,” Gasser said. “Once you learn about The Bridge, you can’t help following what they are planning next. The impact they are making is really remarkable.”
Heineken Woodlee, the organization’s Senior Director of Strategy & Partnerships, was unaware Bridges for Youth had even been nominated for the Council nonprofit award.
“It was a big surprise,” she said, “but it was a beautiful surprise. We are so grateful.”
To date, Goodyear has released four lines of tires with soybean oil compounds: Assurance WeatherReady (2017), Eagle Enforcer All Weather (2018), Eagle Exhilarate (2019) and Assurance Comfort Drive (2020). About a bushel of soybeans is needed for each set of soy-based tires. Goodyear has increased its use of soybeans by 73% since 2018 and has pledged to fully replace all of its petroleum-driven oils with soybean oil by 2040.
“These tires show not just farmers, but anyone who drives a vehicle, that using homegrown, sustainable products doesn’t mean compromising on quality or performance,” Council Director Gene Stoel said.
‘Meeting a need’
Based in south Minneapolis, The Bridge for Youth provides emergency shelter and supportive housing for minor-age youth (including single-parent youth) and young adults experiencing homelessness. The pandemic has only exacerbated issues related to youth homelessness. On any given night, 6,000 youths in Minnesota are homeless – accounting for nearly half of the state’s homeless population. Most home-instable youths are also experiencing mental health challenges.
“During COVID, the world changed,” Heineken Woodlee said, “and for youth seeking the stability and safety of The Bridge, a lot of those options and supportive adults just weren’t there. … There was nowhere to go.”
As a result of the challenges brought forth by the pandemic, The Bridge for Youth launched its Mobile Youth Outreach Center, a bus equipped with food, clothing and hygiene needs. The organization hopes to use the Goodyear soy-based tires for the mobile bus or another van designed for outreach services.
“By being mobile, it gets us the flexibility to meet them where they’re at,” Heineken Woodlee said. “This is a safe place for youth. It’s meeting a need in the community, but it’s bittersweet that we have such a need in our community.”
Feeding homeless youth is a critical step toward forging relationships.
“Food builds trust,” Heineken Woodlee said.
Minnesota Soybean will donate the set of soy-based tires to The Bridge for Youth later this fall.
“We applaud The Bridge for Youth for their efforts in feeding and clothing our youth in the face of some difficult circumstances,” Council CEO Tom Slunecka said. “This harvest season, our organization is proud to give back to this worthy nonprofit.”