What Do Dumpster Diving, Panera Bread and Suspended Coffee Have In Common?

The premise of many Christian microfinance institutions is that by helping people help themselves instead of offering charity, the local community and economy is boosted and a sense of dignity is restored to the impoverished. But I’m realizing more and more that you can help restore dignity without money being the focal point.

I’ve been touched by stories I’ve read recently around the Internet and in the news about people helping people in really amazing ways out of the kindness of their hearts. Stories that encapsulate the essence of why organizations like our alliance partner HOPE International do what they do. Stories that ultimately restore my social-justice weary heart and hope in humanity.

Are you ready to be inspired? Then read on. Here are three charities/charitable acts that I feel capture the spirit of microenterprise by restoring dignity to the impoverished and underserved:

The Gleaners’ Kitchen

Maximus Thaler, a Tufts University student, has garnered national attention with his “underground restaurant and grocery store” Kickstarter campaign. Aiming to turn waste into wealth, Maximus and his team of do-gooders dumpster dive for discarded produce, meat and herbs and turn their finds into wholesome meals which they then share with the local community.

Dubbed “The Gleaners’ Kitchen,” Maximus promises that none of the salvaged food will have a price tag as food should be viewed as a basic human right that everyone has access to. Meals will be served daily at 6:00 p.m. and the Gleaners’ Kitchen will be open 24 hours a day. From the campaign’s website:

We imagine a café, decorated with dumpstered flowers and cheap art, where people hungry for a different world can come and exchange ideas. We imagine concerts, poetry readings, academic lectures and craftivist workshops, all facilitated by the preposterous amounts of free food our society has somehow forgotten. Art will be everywhere. It will be shared as freely as the food. No one will leave The Gleaners’ Kitchen without a bit of cardboard in their pockets and a bag of vegetables for their table at home.

To find out more about his fantastic idea and to put your overactive imaginations at ease about the state of the salvaged food, watch the short video below! You’ll be amazed at how much food grocery stores toss out on a daily basis.

Panera Cares

Next up is a well-known, well-loved franchise that makes a mean bread bowl. Panera Bread has a community café called Panera Cares that confronts hunger by offering those with less a dignified dining experience where they pay what they can afford. Those without any means to contribute have the option of donating an hour of their time to volunteering in these cafes in exchange for a meal.

As if that weren’t awesome enough, Panera Cares has also implemented a job-training program for youth who then become working members of the community and society as a whole. To read some heart-warming personal stories about the people who have benefited from this brilliantly altruistic idea, check out their website.

Suspended Coffee

The suspended coffee concept that’s going viral on the Internet currently supposedly took off in the cafés of southern Italy. “Caffe sospeso” is a tradition where someone pays in advance for an extra cup of coffee or two, which can then be consumed by a person in need for a little pick-me-up or warmth later in the day. Some establishments are even expanding this idea to allow people to pay for/suspend food items as well.

These are just a few ways charitable actions and organizations are utilizing the heart of microenterprise (the restoration of dignity) to make the world a better place. Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to spread awareness of all the bad that’s happening in the world that I forget to spread awareness about how genuinely good humanity has the propensity to be.


Photo: “Sprout cupcakes.” Courtesy of Gleaners’ Kitchen.