Popping through the pandemic: Amanda Kossoff gives back to her community

Amanda Kossoff, junior at Churchill High School, makes a batch of chocolate popcorn for her nonprofit organization, Pop for a Cause.

Courtesy of Pop for a Cause

Amanda Kossoff, junior at Churchill High School, makes a batch of chocolate popcorn for her nonprofit organization, Pop for a Cause.

Helina Tamiru, Social Justice Editor

When the pandemic hit and she saw that her community was in need, Amanda Kossoff knew just the right way to help. Her obsession with popcorn coupled with her passion for community service led her to create Pop for a Cause, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. 

16-year-old Kossoff has always been involved in service, so when the opportunity arose for her to start her own organization, she jumped to it. It all began in her kitchen, making popcorn, selling it to family and friends, and donating the profits to a local organization. Over time, Pop for a Cause grew and Kossoff now donates the proceeds to a different charity every month. 

A dancer and a stellar student, Amanda poured her creativity and passion into her business. With flavors ranging from cake batter to cookie monster, Pop for a Cause easily attracted many customers. Now, Kossoff is expanding the organization, gathering volunteers and participating in more hands-on service. 

What inspired you to start Pop for a Cause?

I was volunteering with this organization, So What Else. They’re a Rockville nonprofit and also in DC. They were having to lay a lot of people off and there was a lack of staffing because of covid. They were really struggling financially because they needed funding and they needed resources to keep their programs going; they do food security stuff and youth programming. It was really upsetting that they were losing so much and struggling during the pandemic, so I wanted to do fundraising for them. First, I asked people, ‘would you donate?’ and I got some donations that way, but I realized if you have something, people are more likely to donate. So then I decided that I wanted to do popcorn and sell popcorn and donate all the profits to charity. For the first few months, we just supported So What Else and we were able to donate a lot to them. I chose popcorn because I eat popcorn everyday. I love it. You can do so many things like put chocolate on it, or do whatever you want. 

What is your process for picking your monthly charity?

The cause of the month started with organizations that I’ve been heavily involved with and that I really believe in their mission. But as time goes by we need more causes. For every single cause, they promote education and that’s something that’s really important to me. If it’s an organization that I don’t know much about, I usually reach out to the staff on their website and I ask them more about it. I’ll maybe schedule a zoom call so I can learn more about their mission and where the funds will actually be going because there are a lot of organizations where your funds won’t be as useful as somewhere else. So basically, if I don’t already know it, then I’ll reach out to their staff and learn more about the organization. 

How was the process of getting 501(c)(3) certified as an official government nonprofit and why was that certification important to you?

I’d say that the 501(c)(3) registration process was pretty slow and a little bit frustrating, but definitely worth it in the end. It took me, I feel like it was a hundred days, it took me a really long time to actually go through all the process and there were a lot of times where I was like, I don’t really want to do this. But with all the money that we’re raising and contributing and also with the kid volunteers being able to get SSL hours, it’s really been worth it to have that status. There were so many different things that I had to do and so much legal jargon that makes you really scared to try and do it and that’s what hinders a lot of people from getting their 501(c)(3) status. So, I really had to be patient and ask people if I needed help, like any adults that I knew that were in law and could help me understand certain forms and different things. Another part of it was getting a board of directors and it has to be three adults that are not related to you. At that point I was like, I don’t even know who to ask, like that’s a little weird. Asking the adults, calling them and asking them, that was a little scary for me at first. Also, towards the end of the process, you have to draft your bylaws, get a board of directors, buy articles of incorporation, so many different things. I did all of it and I was waiting for a letter from the IRS to the PO box. I went and I got a letter from them and I was so excited. I was like, this is it, we’re a 501(c)(3)! I opened it and then it was like, ‘You’re not eligible, you need to fill out these three forms,’ and I was like, oh my gosh. So, that was so anticlimactic; I was about to celebrate. So it was tough, but definitely worth it in the end.

How do you balance your junior year, Pop for a Cause, dance, and your social life?

That’s actually a really good question that I’ve been wondering a lot lately. During covid, it was totally fine because I was in online school. I could have my English class going and making popcorn, like camera off, and I would just be doing that all the time. Now, that’s not possible. Something that I try to do is keeping a tight schedule and also saying this time period on the weekend, I’ll do this for Pop for a Cause, but during the week, I’m actually trying to focus on academics because I’m trying to prioritize my school work. When you are running a business, you do wanna work on it all the time and if you do that then your school work is gonna suffer, your grades are gonna go down, so overall I try to prioritize my academics. Sometimes when I’m doing my homework or doing something else that’s school related, I’ll think of something I have to do for Pop for a Cause and I would just go and do it and I wouldn’t even finish my homework. So, now I just write it down and come back to the computer. So, I just try my best and also try to have balance because I also want to hangout with my friends and family, that’s important.

Which popcorn flavor is your favorite?

This is an unpopular opinion because most people like zebra, but my favorite is kettle. It’s better than plain because plain is just too plain, and zebra, with the caramel and the chocolate, is just way too much. And then kettle is sweet and salty- I just love it. 

What’s next for Pop for a Cause?

Right now we’re expanding our ambassador program. There are a lot of students who are interested in volunteering or they wanna make an impact but they don’t really know how. So we’ve been really working on outreach and getting kids who want to come to volunteer at our community events. That’s sort of a shift that we’ve had. In the beginning, we focused more on direct consumers, like selling the popcorn and fundraising that way, but now we’re working more on community service events. Whether we have an event with Friendship Circle where we teach them how to make popcorn or we’ve made, like, 300 oral care kits for this Silver Spring organization the other week. So, we’re focusing more on community service than the direct consumer. I think it’s a lot more fun to build a community that way and it’s still impactful. 

How can people get involved?

The main way that people can get involved is through volunteering at our events or becoming a student ambassador. Basically how you can do that is you can go to popforacause.org and there is an application on there to become an ambassador. When you’re an ambassador you get the information first on where to volunteer because with covid we can’t have that many people, so the ambassadors get first priority if they want to volunteer. And you can earn SSL hours that way. It’s really fun, we listen to music, and we get ice cream after. It’s just a fun time. 

Why is it important to do service and give back to the community?

I think doing service and giving back to your community is crucial for everyone to do. There’s a lot of people, even in our close communities, that don’t have all the resources, don’t have all the access to all different resources, or they may not be food secure. Maybe even if you want to do service by planting trees or picking up trash around, just anything that you can do to help support others in your community or support the planet is really beneficial because if everyone does it, that’s what makes a better world. Instead of all just being like, ‘someone else will do that’. If everyone said that, then there would be no change and no net positivity. 

What advice would you give to young aspiring female entrepreneurs?

I would say really think about what your motivation is. There are so many different things you can start. You can start a business, you can start a nonprofit, a social enterprise. When you’re deciding what to start, think about what your motive is because there’s some external factors like you think you’re not doing enough, you think you need to do it for college, your parents are pressuring you to do something. There are those factors and there are factors like, I actually need to start a business to make money so I can go to college or I want to start an organization to help my community in a niche aspect because you’re actually self-motivated. So I would say you’ll go a lot further if you’re actually self-motivated versus if you’re relying on external factors. Make sure that you’re passionate about what you’re doing and whatever you choose to create your business around, whether it be community events, maybe it’s a tech company, maybe it’s like a baking business, just make sure you really enjoy it because you’ll put your all into it.