Food for Your Stomach and Your Soul: 10 Food-Centric Philanthropies

UNICEF Kid Power

At Better, there are few things we’re as passionate about as philanthropy, but food is definitely up there. That’s why we love these 10 organizations using the power of food to make a difference. Read on to find out how you can warm your stomach and your soul by supporting these great causes. 

For the Next Generation

Common Threads

Common Threads

Common Threads is opening minds and stomachs with culinary programs and classes they say serve as “a preventative health tool” for children and teens. “Every day, our programs give kids and families the tools to make smart and healthy decisions about what they eat,” says Common Threads CEO Linda Novick-O’Keefe. “In fact, studies have shown that students who complete our programs show a significant increase in their understanding of nutritional foods and liking for fruits and vegetables. We’re making cooking fun, inspiring confidence in the kitchen and creating new, positive attitudes towards food.” Common Threads and their Cook For Life campaign enable children and teens to learn skills that will benefit them for the rest of their life. One $25 donation provides a child or teen eight cooking and nutritional knowledge classes that can significantly impact their life and relationship with food.

Learn more at

Purple Asparagus

Photo courtesy of Purple Asparagus

Did you know that in some low-income communities in Chicago the childhood obesity rate is as high as 70 percent? Purple Asparagus believes “that all children should have the chance to discover new-to-them wholesome foods” and, as their website explains, “take in the tantalizing smells, vibrant colors and fresh flavors that come with local, seasonal eating.”

You can find them in schools through their “Delicious Nutritious Adventures” program that brings nutrition and food knowledge education into the classrooms of over 30 Chicagoland schools, in farmer’s markets and throughout the Chicago community demonstrating at healthy living expos and trade shows. A donation of $55 will provide one child with access to the “Delicious Nutritious Adventures” program for an entire school year.

For more information and to donate go to

UNICEF Kid Power Program

“Did you know that 1 in 4 children around the world is malnourished? At the same time, 1 in 4 American children is inactive,” says UNICEF Midwest Managing Director Casey Marsh. “UNICEF Kid Power allows children to be part of the solution to end global malnutrition by getting active themselves.”

The world’s first “Wearable-For-Good,” the UNICEF Kid Power Band, a watch-sized band that tracks activity, allows kids to earn points by being active. Points unlock funding that is used by UNICEF to provide Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for severely malnourished children around the world. As of earlier this week, as shown on their interactive website, Chicago-area kids alone have unlocked almost 21,000 RUTFs for children in need around the world.

To learn more or buy your child a UNICEF Kid Power Band, go to

Pilot Light

Four Chicago chefs started Pilot Light in 2010 to teach children “about where food comes from, how it grows, and how their choices affect their bodies and the environment,” proclaims the organization’s mission. Inspired by Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, chefs Jason Hammel, Paul Kahan, Matthias Merges and Ryan Poli connected with Chicago Public Schools and then partnered with Disney II Magnet School. They developed Pilot Light with a new approach, incorporating teaching about making healthy food choices into regular classroom lessons.

Six years later, they have expanded to six schools, teaching approximately 1,200 students in 25 classrooms around Chicago. Their impact is clear: 76 percent of students who participate in Pilot Light programming are willing to try new foods and 71 percent say they have the confidence to ask parents for healthier foods, demonstrating the program’s potential to influence parent behavior as well.

To learn more about Pilot Light and support their work, go to

For the Hungry

Trees That Feed Foundation

Trees That Feed Foundation

Trees That Feed Foundation, a 2014 Make It Better Philanthropy Awards winner, operates on the idea that if you give a man a fish you can feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish you can feed him for a lifetime. In their case the fish is fruit and fishing is providing fruit trees. Organization founders Mike and Mary McLaughlin “want to help in a permanent way, so [they] don’t simply provide food. [They] provide the means to provide food — trees.” The foundation partners with governments and nonprofits in more than 40 countries facing the greatest struggles with hunger and food shortage, donating and selling trees as well as providing training and equipment to assist in the care of the trees and harvest and sale of fruit, with an ultimate goal of independence on the part of beneficiaries. Over 80,000 fruit trees have already been supplied to various countries in need like Jamaica and Haiti. Just $15 provides a breadfruit tree that can feed a family or community for the next 50 years.

To learn more about Trees That Feed or to donate, go to

Blessings in a Backpack

Blessings In a Backpack Salt Lake Chapter05 copy (1)

Blessings in a Backpack CEO Brooke Wiseman believes “no child should have to go hungry.” She leads the organization in helping to fight hunger during a time when many underprivileged children struggle, “weekends during the school year.” Many of us take for granted access to food when we need it. But far too many children don’t know where or when their next meal will come, especially on the weekends when they are away from school where lunch is provided. This can mean over 50 hours without food for some children.

Hungry children struggle to maintain focus, retain information and stay positive. Blessings in a Backpack’s all-volunteer network works to send children home with a backpack of food on Fridays that should last them through the weekend. By providing nourishing food to children in need, the organization feeds bodies and minds. Of the children who have received backpacks, 59 percent say it is easier to learn at school, 60 percent do not get in trouble as often and 78 percent feel their community is caring for them. A $100 donation feeds one child on the weekends for an entire school year.

To learn more, volunteer and donate, go to

For Your Stomach and Your Soul

Hugs + Mugs Café at Gigi’s Playhouse

Hugs + Mugs Cafe
Hugs + Mugs Cafe interns and their volunteer leader

2015 Make It Better Philanthropy Awards winner Gigi’s Playhouse is a Down syndrome achievement center with 29 locations across the country and continent that offers educational and therapeutic programming at no cost to families. One such program is their Hugs + Mugs Café. Located at Gigi’s Playhouse Hoffman Estates, Hugs + Mugs is a one-of-a-kind studio café run by young adult “interns” with Down syndrome. All of the café’s interns have graduated from GiGi University, a unique education environment tailored to teach students about fitness, nutrition, communication and career preparation in an optimal format for their learning needs. Hugs + Mugs interns are involved in every aspect of the café, including baking and food prep, food service, sales and designing the mugs they sell.

Not only does the café generate funds that benefit the Playhouse and the incredible programs they provide but, as their website explains, it also “empowers [their] adults to enhance their career and communication skills as a bridge to prepare for future job interviews and meaningful employment opportunities within their communities.”

Go online to to order their products or visit the café at 2350 W. Higgins Road, Hoffman Estates.

The Floured Apron

The Floured Apron
The Floured Apron students with famed pastry chef Gale Gand

Born out of founder Emily Boling’s passion for baking that began in her grandmother’s kitchen, The Floured Apron trains and mentors women from underserved communities who have an interest in baking.

The program is centered around a 10-week training program in food preparation and service, covering best practices in customer service, sanitation, recipe development and decorating techniques. As graduation approaches, The Floured Apron volunteers and mentors also help students with job placement.

In a few weeks the organization’s third class will graduate from the program and Boling is “thrilled to report that they will have multiple job offers and are well on their way to making a career out of their passion.” Thanks to Boling and her team of incredible mentors and volunteers, the Floured Apron’s baked good are now for sale at The Grand Food Center in Winnetka and Glencoe. Proceeds from the sale of these goods, as well as orders made online, benefit the Floured Apron’s programming.

To donate or order from The Floured Apron, go to or find their products at The Grand Food Center at 606 Green Bay Road, Winnetka.

Hearts & Flour Bakery

Hearts & Flour Bakery

Misericordia is well known for its top-quality support and programming for adults and children with developmental disabilities. One of their most popular programs, the Hearts & Flour Bakery, which is staffed by residents, has grown substantially over the past 25 years, receiving a significant boost 13 years ago, when Misericordia Executive Director Sister Rosemary Connelly suggested expanding the bakery’s offering to sell baked goods to people across Chicagoland and, eventually, nationally via their website.

The bakery serves not only as a fundraising avenue for Misericordia but also as a place for their residents to learn new skills and receive job training. An important byproduct of this is that residents also gain a “sense of belonging, responsibility and importance,” says Kali Kordewick, one of Misericordia’s Hearts & Flour Bakery managers. This in turn “boosts their self-esteem and gives them confidence to try new things.”

A major part of the bakery’s mission is to train and equip the residents who work there with skills and knowledge to help them find a job outside of Misericordia. With this goal in mind, the bakery is set up to accommodate people of all abilities so that any resident who is interested can participate regardless of what they can and cannot do and so that they can be self-sufficient while they work.

“No matter who you are, having a purpose in life is an integral part of your well being. That is no exception here at Misericordia,” says Kordewick, who shared that four of the bakery’s workers have recently moved on to other jobs at Mariano’s, Wal-Mart and the Raddison Blu, a sure sign that the model is proving very successful.

To purchase baked goods online, go to

Curt’s Café

Curt's Cafe

Cultivating Unique Restaurant Training, aka Curt’s Café, doesn’t only serve up a great cup of locally roasted coffee and a delicious variety of breakfast and lunch options — they are also a nonprofit that gives back to the community. Their two Evanston locations serve as a place for at-risk or previously incarcerated youth to learn food service skills as well as basic life skills that will later help them find a job of their own, which the organization believes is essential to helping at-risk youth turn their lives around.

According to Curt’s Cafe, 82 percent of previously incarcerated young people end up back in the system within a year. The organization hopes to break this cycle for those who participate in its program.

Four to five students, referred by Evanston probation officers, Evanston’s Youth Job Center, social services agencies and the state’s attorney, are enrolled at a time. After three months of well-rounded training and learning, Curt’s Café mentors work with the students to find them a job and work with them through the transition into a full-time position.

Visit the cafés at 2922 Central St., Evanston, and 1813 Dempster St., Evanston, or donate online at

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