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Celebrity Charities: The New Way of Giving

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Macroeconomics course on a blogging series about “the economics of sustainability.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Melissa V. Barnes

Over the years, charity work for celebrities has become less about writing a check and more about action. Brad Pitt, founded the Make it Right Foundation which is helping to rebuild New Orleans’ lower 9th ward after Hurricane Katrina.  Their mission is to build safe, sustainable, and affordable homes for working families and aims to be a catalyst for change in the building industry in New Orleans and beyond.

The H2O Africa Foundation was founded by Matt Damon to create widespread public awareness of the water crisis in Africa and to gather support for clean water programs in critical areas.  Their mission is to leave a legacy of better lives and better communities in Africa.  Both of these foundations require not only the face of the celebrity to attract attention and build awareness, but also, long hours of hard personal work by each to fulfill their mission.

This new action oriented charitable work by celebrities is what intrigued me about the latest non-profit project by Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation.  Soul Kitchen is a restaurant designed not only to feed the hungry, but also to build community and restore hope to those who are struggling.  JBJ has taken the old soup kitchen idea and morphed it into something to give the community pride. Gone is the traditional community kitchen and in it’s place is a quaint little restaurant converted from an old auto body shop, complete with it’s own organic garden.  Located in Red Banks, New Jersey, the goal is to do more than just fill bellies and the most popular dish being served is hope.

The premise is simple.  Pick from the assortment of healthy and, when possible, organic, and locally sourced food on the menu and leave a minimum donation of $10.  If you can donate more, you’re helping to defray the cost of someone unable to pay.   For those who can’t pay, an hour volunteering in the kitchen or in the neighborhood will earn a meal voucher to ensure that everyone who walks in the door leaves not only with a full belly, but also filled with hope.

There are lots of opportunities to help: preparing food, busing tables, washing dishes, waiting on tables, or cleaning. Those who volunteer in the kitchen are guided by the kitchen staff through their tasks and can qualify for job training.  "With the economic downturn, one of the things I noticed was that disposable income was one of the first things that went," Bon Jovi told AP during an interview. "Dining out, the family going out to a restaurant, mom not having to cook, dad not having to clean up - a lot of memories were made around restaurant tables."

USDA statistics show 14.7 percent of households – almost 17.5 million households - were food insecure at least some time in 2010.  Meaning, they didn’t have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.  These statistics are evident in the USDA’s Food Desert Locater.

A Food Desert is an area where healthy and affordable food is difficult to find.  Located in both rural and urban areas, Food Deserts are most commonly found in low-socioeconomic and minority communities.  In these areas, people are often closer to fast food restaurants than they are to a grocery store.  With limited or no access to fresh food, people chose to eat at fast food restaurants.  This presents additional problems such as diet-related health problems and obesity. In a time when one in seven Americans worries about where their next meal will come from, “Soul Kitchen” can provide a way to combat these problems.

Projects like “Make it Right,” “H20 Africa,” and “Soul Kitchen” are examples of charitable projects that involve the communities to which they are tied.  Each has the potential to do much more for a community as a whole, rather than someone just writing a check.  If successful, “Soul Kitchen” could lead to a template that can be replicated around the country to not only provide healthy food in areas such as Food Deserts, but also help to rebuild the communities by engaging them to participate in the process.

Melissa V. Barnes is a Presido MBA student who recently left a sixteen year career in the film and television industry.  Her professional interests include biomimicry and organizational development.

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