End Hunger.

nokidhungryCLT

I’m on the planning committee for Charlotte’s Taste of the Nation event to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, and I can’t wait for tomorrow night. If you’re local, you can still buy tickets for the 4/17 event here. (Our local hashtag is #nokidhungryCLT.) Not in Charlotte? Browse the national calendar of culinary events to find one near you.

My involvement in this event is minimal, which leaves me so impressed by the army of volunteers dedicating their time and talents to the cause in a much larger capacity than I. But I’m happy to participate at any level because hunger is a cause that, simply put, lights me on fire. And here’s why…

In the United States, 50 million people are hungry; 16 million of them are children who will go to bed tonight not knowing where their next meal is coming from. They will walk into school tomorrow more focused on their growling bellies than on their growing minds.
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Unlike in the developing world where hunger is often a result of a lack of food, hunger in the US persists despite an agricultural abundance. In fact, if you looked at the Earth’s global production of food, we have enough of a collective surplus to adequately feed a population of 10 billion people. (Our current global population is just 6 billion, mind you.)

Hunger, then, is a complex, multi-faceted problem perpetuated both by a lack of food in some areas but also by a lack of funds for and awareness of a broken hunger relief system. (Note that lack of food and/or lack of access to food is a MAJOR part of the problem, especially in developing countries. The point being made here is that IF DISTRIBUTED EQUALLY there is enough food for everyone already.)

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, we need $30 billion a year to eradicate global hunger . Thirty billion dollars sounds like an awful lot of money, but it pales in comparison to the amount of food wasted annually just in the US. Each year in the United States alone we throw away the equivalent of $165 billion of edible food.

This means that the monetary equivalent of what’s currently rotting in our dumpsters could have fed the global hungry population for five years.

Let’s say that again:

The monetary equivalent of what’s currently rotting in our dumpsters could have fed the global hungry population for five years.

What are we doing wrong?

It seems like common sense to address the issue of hunger by providing food. So well-meaning, good-hearted people host food drives to collect cans for their local food banks. The intention is great and part of the need is met, but as a long-term solution to the problem, food drives will never end hunger.

Here’s why: When you purchase food to donate to a food bank you’re purchasing it at a substantial retail markup. So a lot of what you’re paying for isn’t the food itself but the packaging it’s in, the advertising dollars that went into marketing it to you, and the cost to harvest, process, and deliver it to grocery store.

Once your overpriced food makes it to the sorting floor at your local food bank, it demands the crucial resources of an under-funded and under-staffed organization in order to be sorted, processed and distributed to those in need.

Is there an easier way?

Yes. Food banks have the ability to purchase food in bulk at wholesale rates, which means they can buy more with less and ultimately feed more people. The bottom line is that a dollar you spend at the grocery store won’t go as far as a dollar spent by the food bank.

Having control over what they purchase (rather than receiving random piles of food from different organizations) would also empower our food banks to have more control over what they distribute and when.

This means they could better adapt to the ebbs and flows in demand rather than hoping to meet increased need based on arbitrary donations. It also means that they could have more control over the quality of food purchased.

Imagine a world where our hungry populations are fed healthy, locally produced food rather than over-processed junk food from the back of someone’s pantry. It can happen.

I call it PlateShare.

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PlateShare is a platform that allows people to round up their restaurant bill to the nearest dollar and donate the change the feed the hungry. The concept taps into an already established buying pattern—dining out—and encourages a small-change contribution to the cause with the simple swipe of your credit card.

Microdonations of $0.01 to $0.99 may seem nominal, but small change makes big change when we all work together. A similar concept tested at 27 restaurants found that on average each restaurant generated $40/day from diner microdonations.

There are 600,000 restaurants in the United States. If only 1% of those restaurants encouraged their guests to participate in PlateShare, we could generate $87.6 MILLION in one year. And that money would go to food banks to allow them to purchase 600 million pounds of whole, healthy, local food for those who need it most.

“For decades, the world has grown enough food to nourish everyone adequately. In the modern world, like never before, famine is by and large preventable. When it occurs, it represents civilization’s collective failure.”

Are we done failing?

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PlateShare is very much in its infancy and we aren’t ready to roll out quite yet, but you can still get involved. Here’s how:

Start now!

For months now I have been auditing my bank statements for restaurant and food purchases and keeping a running tally of what my roundup would have been. I then donate that equivalent to my local food bank. It’s tedious and slow, but it keeps me motivated to make PlateShare happen so that there will be an easier way for others to do the same. I find that on average I round up about $12 a month. Painless for me but a huge impact if hundreds of thousands of us all did it.

Make Some Noise

My food blogging friends are already out there snapping pictures of their food, checking in to restaurants, and tweeting/Facebooking about the whole ordeal. Next time you do this, keep an eye on your bill to see how much you could have rounded up with PlateShare and tweet that along with the photo of your meal. (See the example below.) Follow us on Twitter: @plateshare. Like us on Facebook: facebook.com/plateshare. (I use hashtag #endhunger to join the larger hunger relief conversation on Twitter.) Messages like this that show consumer demand give me leverage when I’m pitching the idea to potential partners, donors and investors. They also light my heart up and inspire me to keep on trucking. So thanks for that.

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Tell Restaurants You Want to PlateShare

If you have restaurant connections, please let the owners know you’d love to see a PlateShare roundup line on your receipt. The PlateShare platform is two-fold: a mobile application for consumers and a point-of-sale system integration for restaurants. We are actively seeking restaurant partners willing to pilot a POS integration of the PlateShare platform. Your elevator pitch is this: “Hey, have you guys heard of PlateShare? No? Well, it’s this awesome platform that allows diners to round their restaurant bills up to the nearest dollar and donate the change to feed the hungry. You should look into being a partner! I’ll connect you with the founder. [INSERT HIGH FIVE HERE]” You can direct them to our Restaurants page to learn more or directly to me: katierlevans@gmail.com.

Seek Out and Support Other Hunger Relief Efforts

There are a lot of hunger relief organizations already doing a lot of very good, very important work. We’re all on the same team and PlateShare and I are here to support them.  I’m actively reaching out to Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry, Feeding America and Stop Hunger Now, as well as smaller local initiatives here in Charlotte to see what we can do when we work together. This is bigger than me. It’s bigger than PlateShare. It’s a movement. Join it.

 

Your Plate Could End Hunger

I have this idea that keeps me up at night and leads me to the library on a never-ending quest to learn more but somehow understand less. I have this idea that breaks my heart and gives me hope and sparks my soul on fire all at the same time. I have this idea that if we all give a little, it adds up to a lot. I have this idea that there is enough food on this planet to feed everyone, that our collective good is greater than the sum of our parts, that small actions make big change, and that we, humankind, will not go on believing that hunger is a problem without a solution.

I have this idea, and I need your help.

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I call my idea Plate Share, a social food photo-sharing smart phone application that empowers each and every one of us to make charitable giving second nature. To put it in perspective, I see it as Foodgawker for philanthropic restaurant-goers.

Here’s how it works:

Plate Share takes something we already do and turns it into an automatic charitable donation with an online social slant guaranteed to make it go viral.

What if every time you dined out or bought groceries you could use an app on your phone to round your bill up to the nearest dollar with your extra change going to feed the hungry?

It’s simple: Give change. Make change.

And what if every time you did this you snapped a picture of your plate and shared it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram (#plateshare) and encouraged them to do the same? And they did the same and told their friends? Who then did the same and told their friends?

I tracked my food spending for the months of November and December to see how much money I would’ve donated to Plate Share had it existed. On average, my change added up to $12 a month. Doesn’t seem like much, I realize; it’s negligible in the grand scheme of my budget. But what if you did it, too? And what if all 1,600 of my Facebook friends did, too? And all of yours? And all 3,000 Twitter followers? And all of yours? And so on and so on and so on.

What I love about the Plate Share concept is that it makes charitable giving accessible to anyone. I’m not a wealthy person, but if I can afford to eat out, I can afford to give change to make change. At most you will donate $0.99, at the least $0.01 depending on how much your bill is. There’s not an option to give more than that because part of what makes Plate Share powerful is that it takes all of us to make it happen.

If we all work together, a little bit goes a long way.

Consider this:

  • $1 contributes 7 pounds of food to Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest)
  • If my 3,000 Twitter followers all joined Plate Share and donated an average $12/mo x 12 months = $432,000
  • $432K is the equivalent of 3 million pounds of food
  • The average person consumes 2,500 pounds of food annually
  • Together, we could feed 1,200 people for one year

And that’s huge. But it doesn’t end there. My scope for Plate Share is massive, and I see it scalable to a global reach.

But I’ve got to get it off the ground first, and so I need your help.

Startup Weekend Charlotte

On Friday, January 25, I’ll be pitching the Plate Share concept at Startup Weekend Charlotte where I hope to find a team of developers, designers, and (potentially) donors passionate and talented enough to launch it in just 48 hours.

Here’s the catch: I only get 60 seconds. No visuals. No props. Nothin’. Just me spittin’ love like sparks and hoping it catches fire.

How You Can Help

If you believe in the Plate Share concept and want to see it come to life, here’s what you can do to draw attention:

Twitter

  • Follow @plateshare on Twitter
  • When you dine out, take a picture of your plate and tweet: “Hey @startupwkndCLT, this plate could help #endhunger. Support @sweettaterblog & the @plateshare project so I can donate $x.xx!” [Fill in the x's with the amount of change it would take to round your bill to the nearest dollar.]
  • When you buy groceries, take a picture of your receipt and tweet: “Hey @startupwkndCLT, my groceries could help #endhunger. Support @sweettaterblog & the @plateshare project so I can donate $x.xx!” [Fill in the x's with the amount of change it would take to round your bill to the nearest dollar.]
  • Tweet: “I believe in the @plateshare project. Support @sweettaterblog at @startupwkndCLT to help #endhunger”
  • Tweet: “Give change, make change. Support @sweettaterblog and the @plateshare project at @startupwkndCLT to help #endhunger”
  • Share the “Give Change, Make Change” photo below

Instagram

  • When you dine out, take a picture of your plate and add the caption: “Hey #startupwkndCLT, this plate could help #endhunger. Support @sweettaterblog & the @plateshare project so I can donate $x.xx! #plateshare” [Fill in the x's with the amount of change it would take to round your bill to the nearest dollar.]
  • Share the “Give Change, Make Change” photo below

Facebook

  • Like Plate Share on Facebook HERE
  • Share a link to this post and/or www.plateshare.org
  • Share your #plateshare Instagrams and TwitPics to your timeline
  • Post the “Give Change, Make Change” picture below to your timeline

Bloggers

  • Link to this post from your blog and encourage others to do the same
  • Tweet the living hell out of all of this
  • Post this to your blog’s Facebook page
  • Follow @plateshare on Twitter

Important Info

  • Website: www.plateshare.org
  • Facebook: www.facebook.com/plateshare
  • Twitter: @plateshare, @sweettaterblog (Katie Levans, Founder), @startupwkndCLT (where I’m pitching this weekend)
  • Hashtags: #plateshare, #endhunger, #CLT, #CLTfood
  • Instagram: sweettaterblog (no plateshare instagram yet…)
  • 10-second summary: Plate share is a social food photo-sharing smart phone application that empowers each and every one of us to make charitable giving second nature by rounding your restaurant bill to the nearest dollar and donating the change to feed the hungry.

THANK YOU

Love in a Hopeless Place

AH!

When I set out to raise money for Beards BeCAUSE this year, I just wanted to help. My mom has always told me that when you’re sad and lonely and in a general state of blah, you should do something nice for someone else. My two primary coping mechanisms are avoidance and displacement. In this case, I applied both. I decided I’d avoid my own problems by directing my energy towards someone else’s. It seemed logical.

At the time, I didn’t think I had a strong tie to the cause but I knew it was a worthy one, and I also knew Scott and Jared personally and wanted to help them out with their mission. Plus, I love beards.

What I’ve learned over the last month and a half–and in the last week especially–is that this cause is so much bigger than that, so much bigger than me, and that (like it or not) I do have a strong tie to this cause. We all do.

One in four women will be a victim of domestic abuse. One in four. That is ridiculous. Unacceptable. Disheartening.

By participating in Beards BeCAUSE I’ve been exposed to the raw truth of real suffering. Though the outlet is lighthearted–beard growing, beer drinking, fundraising–the organization’s mission is heavy and their actions deliberate. In hearing from victims, caseworkers and policemen who deal with domestic violence, I now better understand the gravity of the problem, the breadth of its reach and the reality that it’s not going away any time soon–a fact that leaves me feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and, in all honesty, angry.

But what I’ve seen in the last six weeks–through the kindness of strangers–is that there is great power within each of us (and especially all of us collectively) to make a difference. To cultivate love where there is none. To create hope where there is none.

I cannot thank you all enough for your support (monetary and otherwise) of this cause. The way I see it, my role in all this was simple: draw attention, spread the word, be a voice. You all–the bakers and crafters and bidders in the auction; and the eaters and drinkers at the bar–are the ones who gave selflessly of your time and energy and skills and money. And for that I am very, very grateful.

Together, in just four days, we have raised $1,000 for Beards BeCAUSE to put an end to domestic violence. (The grand total from the auction was $801.50 and my tips from the bar brought in $186, which I filled in to $200 for a nice even $1000 total.) Way to go.

But we’re not done yet. Oh no… There are still three more weeks of fundraising left to go.

Still want to donate?

You can do so through my participant page here.

To the auction winners…

Thank you for your patience with the logistical problems. I’ve been at my other job all day, computerless and phoneless, and am emailing everyone right now with instructions on how to proceed with payment. Thank you all!

Baking BeCAUSE

TODAY

Thank you for visiting my online bake sale/auction. Bloggers (and non-bloggers) from all over the country have offered up some serious baked goods (and some seriously gorgeous non-baked goods, too) to drive funds and draw attention to this very worthy cause. I hope you’ve all come hungry.

All proceeds raised will go directly to Beards BeCAUSE to benefit the United Family Services Shelter for Battered Women.

The auction will be open from 10am EST to 10pm EST.

Never participated in an online bake sale? Let’s break it down…

How to Bid

  1. Click the MORE link next to the item’s description. Your bidding page will pop up in a new window.
  2. Enter your bid, name and email address (I’ll need this to contact you if you win)
  3. If you’re the highest bidder, the computer will let you know with a friendly pop up window. If not, it’ll let you know that you’ve been outbid.
  4. At the close of the auction, if you are the highest bidder you will be prompted to pay for your winnings via my Beards BeCAUSE Paypal page. (This is not an account I can control/access. All funds go directly to Beards BeCAUSE. If you are concerned about payment, please email me at sweettaterblog@gmail.com.) I will email you requesting your contact information for shipping. I will then pass this along to the baker/donor responsible for your goods and they will get them out to you at an agreed upon date. (You can work together to determine an ideal delivery time for both parties.)
  5. Legal mumbo jumbo: Sweet Tater Blog cannot guarantee the integrity of “gluten-free,” “vegan,” “dairy-free,” “soy-free,” “raw,” or other dietary labels on baked goods. If you are highly allergic or ethically inclined, please make this very clear when communicating with your baker or (better yet) consider a non-food item. Please do not let your winnings sit around for a month, eat them, get sick and then tell me I made you sick. Please. If there is a problem with your winnings (lost in the mail, crushed in the mail, etc.), please let me know and I will send you a replacement straight from my kitchen.

Thank you so much for stopping by! I am so grateful.

Sincerely,

Katie

Baking BeCAUSE

Bartender for Hire

Fake it til you make it.

I’ve never experienced domestic abuse firsthand. I’ve been a bystander, unfortunately, as neighbors go at it on the other side of a shared wall, a scene more common than most of us would like to admit. I’ve learned to distinguish between an inanimate object hitting a wall versus a fist hitting a wall versus a body hitting a wall and when it’s time to call the police (which is an acquired skill I could’ve done without acquiring).

In my own homes though–growing up and as an adult (is that what I am now?)–I’ve never seen anything remotely close to resembling violence. My whole life I’ve been surrounded by strong, honorable men. My grandfathers and uncles and dad and brother and boyfriends (all two of them) would never (ever ever ever) lay a hand on me but would seriously (I am not kidding) murder anyone who did. But I do have friends who’ve been (or currently are) in ugly situations and their hurt is very real and their worlds are very dark.

So when people ask me why I’m raising money for Beards BeCAUSE to end domestic abuse (I prefer “abuse” to “violence” so as to not discount the non-physical damage done verbally and mentally), I suppose the response is twofold:

  1. To support the victims
  2. To celebrate the great men in my own life

So last night I bartended to raise money for Beards BeCAUSE to benefit the United Family Service Shelter for Battered Women here in Charlotte.

Sweet Tater Behind the Bar

When putting this together I decided I’d go big or go home so I reached out to one of the city’s most popular restaurants where you’ll frequently find a two-hour wait on a Tuesday night. For some unknown reason, Cowfish was kind enough to let me behind their beautiful (and rather large) bar to make the fundraiser happen. I think it had something to do with the fact that I neglected to tell them that I had never bartended before. Details, shmetails…

Cowfish

Signs on the bar and everything

We all know I like to drink a little bit lot but I can now confirm that a love for vodka does not a bartender make.

I don’t know if maybe Cowfish had a whole lot of faith in me or if they just couldn’t wait to see me fumble my way around the free pours, but there was no training whatsoever going on. This was a straight up birth by fire, my friends, starting with the complicated fancypants cocktails ordered by… my friends.

Thanks a lot, guys.

I wasn’t really on my own. No one would be foolish enough to give me full reign behind a bar like that. Oh no no no. I had the support of Jen, one hell of a bartender and (I’d argue) the most patient person in the entire world.

Thank god for you, Jen

With Jen’s coaching and a little guesswork, I now know how to do the following:

Make fancypants cocktails

Work that archaic computer system

Serve giant onion rings...

... and salad.

Keep track of tabs

And clean up.

Watch out, Vegas strip. I’m comin for you…

By the end of the night I had:

  • Received one phone number
  • Poured one Jack & orange soda… instead of ginger ale
  • Ripped one wine cork straight in half
  • Shin splints.

Seriously. I feel like my right shin is going to snap in half. Bartending is like an endurance sport. Tip big, y’all. Tip big.

PS – This is what I look like at the precise moment of realization that I have probably ruined an entire bottle of wine:

Aaaahaha

PPS – I only served one minor and I’d totally do it again. I mean, her ID looked fully legit and a I knew that tequila would pair nicely with her macaroni and cheese… (That didn’t happen.)

I'M KIDDING DON'T SUE ME

All told, it was a wonderful night. An enormous thank you goes out to:

  • Cowfish for the space, the support and the endless patience
  • Katy for my promo pictures
  • Gwen Poth, PR guru extraordinaire
  • Beards BeCAUSE for doing what they do
  • Everyone who came, drank, ate and tipped. I love you.

I was telling my roommate when I got home this morning that everyone who came out last night (with the exception of Brittney) I’ve known for less than six months, which is exactly how long I’ve been living here in Charlotte. And it was this humbling realization that made me feel like I’m really at home here, like this is mine and I built it myself. And that, my friends, is a pretty big damn deal for the girl who a few short months ago couldn’t even get out of bed.

THANK YOU

If you’d like to donate to Beards BeCAUSE, I’d love for you to do so on my page here.

Also, don’t forget this Wednesday…