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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Thankful? Prove It – Donate to a Food Bank!

3Thanksgiving in the United States is only a few weeks away. Just in time for the holiday, Feeding America has released its latest report, Hunger in America 2014. The report is part of a quadrennial series that provides comprehensive profiles of the hungry to guide US policy development. It is based on interviews with more than 60,000 subjects using 200 food banks.

This year’s report reveals some staggering realities. Foremost, approximately 50 million Americans—or 1 in 6—currently suffer from hunger. This includes at least 7 million seniors and 12 million children. Not surprisingly, these individuals report relatively modest incomes. In fact, their median annual household income is $9,175 (compared to $53,891 for the general US population). Additionally, nearly half report only “fair” or “poor” health.They suffer from particularly high rates of diabetes and hypertension.

But, in many respects, these individuals defy common stereotypes. According to the report, 54% of surveyed households have at least 1 employed member. 41% have at least 1 member with post-secondary education. 20% have at least 1 military veteran. And only 5% of survey respondents are homeless, as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

So how do these individuals cope? Currently, approximately 46 million Americans are enrolled in the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP provides food-purchasing assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families. Certain subsets also take advantage of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). However, such federal assistance is often insufficient. In fact, among the 55% of surveyed households who receive SNAP benefits, “a fifth exhaust their full month’s benefit within a week”.

Consequently, over the last year, 46.5 million individuals turned to Feeding America-affiliated food banks for help. Combined, they visited the food banks 389 million times. Thus, “many individuals are routinely turning to the Feeding America network to meet their nutrition and food budget needs”.

Some also resorted to more drastic measures. Over two-thirds of surveyed households chose between paying for food and paying for utilities, transportation, or medical care during the last year. 35% sold or pawned property to increase their food budget. Furthermore, 40% watered down food or drinks to “make them last longer” or feed everyone in the home.

Given these shocking statistics, Op4G is pleased to promote our partner food banks this month. Currently, these partners include: New Hampshire Catholic Charities, the Oregon Food Bank, the SF-Marin Food Bank, the Vermont Food Bank, the Friends of Saint Joseph’s Pantry, Operation: Sack Lunch, Cumac, the Community Food Bank, and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

As of November 11, Op4G members have donated $18,650 to these food banks. In fact, the Second Harvest Food Bank alone has received $11,504! In this month of Thanksgiving, Op4G encourages our members to complete more surveys for our partner food banks. Remember, every dollar can provide 10 meals!

Flickr photo credit: Peter aka anemoneprojectors