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Choose What to Pay at New Cafe!

Philadelphia is living up to its name. In late October, the “city of brotherly love” opened its first non-profit community café in the Mantua neighbourhood.

Known as EAT (Everyone At the Table), the café has a defining feature: it operates on a pay-what-you-can model. In other words, although the restaurant suggests a donation of $15/meal, “patrons are welcome to pay less, more, or nothing at all”.

The idea behind the café is not new. In fact, there are about 50 similar restaurants throughout the United States. But EAT Café is working hard to set itself apart. While most of its counterparts are “cafeteria-style” and “hosted in church basements”, EAT Café is a full-service restaurant offering a 3-course meal (like kale salad, ginger-gazed chicken, and apple cobbler). According to Mariana Chilton, a partner from nearby Drexel University, “I wanted to make sure that this would not be confused with a soup kitchen”.

The goal is not just to alleviate hunger in Philadelphia, where 1 in 4 people are food insecure. It is also about providing food without shame in an environment where all kinds of people can “meet up and intermingle.” After all, “there’s a lot of shame and isolation that goes along with the experience of hunger”.

However, for EAT Café to have a lasting impact in the community, it needs to be “sustainable” beyond 2019 (when its grants expire). Currently, the café benefits from the generous donations of a number of partners. Metropolitan Bakery, for example, donates bread for each meal, La Colombe provides discounted coffee, and the Drexel Urban Growers supply vegetables. But EAT Cafe believes that it will require 60+% of its ingredients to be donated. Additionally, the restaurant estimates that it needs to serve about 130 meals/night (costing $3.25/meal) for an average of $15 each.

Unfortunately, EAT Café is off to a slow start. In its first week, it served just 125 meals. General Manager Donnell Jones-Craven believes that the key will be “getting the word out”. To this end, he plans to invest in a larger sign, to leverage twitter, and to speak with community groups. But the best spokespeople for EAT Café are the patrons themselves! Matso Baatarkhuu, a struggling student from Mongolia, says “I was about to starve and this place saved my life… It’s not just that it’s this pay-what-you-can model, but they also have great, respectful service. They really take care of you.”

This November, in honor of Thanksgiving, do your part to address hunger. Stop by a non-profit community cafe or complete Op4G surveys for one of our partner food banks: the Central Texas Food Bank, the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, the Oregon Food Bank, the SF-Marin Food Bank, the Vermont Foodbank, CUMAC, and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Learn more here.

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Pentagon Should “Abort Mission” to Recoup Veteran Bonuses

November is a time to honor America’s veterans. But instead, the Pentagon is waging a bitter battle with nearly 10,000 of them.

The battle can be traced back to 2006 – the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. To fill its ranks, the Pentagon offered incentives (monetary bonuses, loans, tuition repayment etc.) to soldiers with certain assignments, such as intelligence and civil affairs. However, in a desperate attempt to meet re-enlistment targets, the California National Guard offered the incentives widely. In total, it provided at least $15,000 to 9,700 soldiers.

The “rampant fraud and mismanagement” was uncovered in 2010. One guard pled guilty to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. But it didn’t end there. In a series of “accusatory” and “aggressive” letters, the Pentagon demanded repayment from the 9,700 soldiers.

Many soldiers struggled to meet the demands. Some depleted their life savings or re-mortgaged their home. Others agreed to repayment plans and wage garnishment. To compound the problem, veterans were charged interest on any amount owing and their credit scores plummeted.

These struggles have sparked an outcry from veterans, non-profits, and the public. One veteran said “It’s an insult to my service! We wonder why veterans are homeless [and] why they don’t trust the system”. The American Legion added “[The soldiers’] decision to volunteer…was based on the understanding that the government would provide promised incentives…the roughly 9,700 veterans did not cause this problem but, instead, honored their commitments faithfully”. Finally, a Platoon Sergeant said, “We can bail out the banks, but we can’t bail out the veterans that fight and die for this country?”

Last week, the Department of Defense responded. After recouping $22 million from veterans, Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Pentagon would temporarily suspend its repayment program. Yet, veterans are not completely out of the line of fire. The Pentagon plans to review each case one-by-one until July 1, 2017. Thus, veterans will have to endure months of wondering “whether the bill collector is going to come after them.” Some “still may be ordered to surrender the money”.

Want to learn more about veterans issues? Visit our partners, Give an Hour, Veterans Path, and Still Serving Veterans.