2012-08-31

Co.Exist

When Grilled Cheese Can Change The World

At college campuses, FeelGood creates grilled-cheese social entrepreneurs who make money slinging melty deliciousness and then give a portion of their proceeds to fight hunger.

Grilled cheese: It’s one of the simplest food items that you can make, and yet it is so beloved. You’ve probably heard of The Melt, for example, a relatively new venture-capital-backed grilled cheese chain that lets customers order food from an app ahead of time. But there’s another organization—FeelGood—that does even more with the bread and cheese sandwich.

The seeds for FeelGood were planted in 2004 when founders Kristin Walter and Talis Apud were in school at the University of Texas at Austin. They were interested in helping to solve the world’s hunger problem, but they had little cash to contribute. So the pair started cooking up grilled cheese sandwiches, asking only that students give a donation in return. In six months, the pair raised $10,000.

In 2006, Walter and Apud launched FeelGood as a nonprofit, allowing students at universities across the country to open FeelGood grilled cheese delis. All the cash that the students raise goes to two organizations—The Hunger Project and CHOICE Humanitarian—that focus on ending hunger through sustainable practices." We don’t [work with] too many organizations because we want to be able to have an impact," explains Kern Beare, director of the Changemaker Academy at FeelGood.

Students don’t just run FeelGood delis; they also learn about both hunger and entrepreneurship. FeelGood offers three curricula: a changemaker track that teaches leadership, a track that offers lessons on how to run a social enterprise, and a hunger track that "lets students take a deep dimensional look at the issue of hunger," according to Beare.

In order to keep students from across chapters connected, FeelGood runs the online Cheese World platform—a place where students can earn points for various actions. The points translate into real money that can be invested in the delis, and in paying for entry to FeelGood training events.

Jordan Hepner, a former FeelGood grilled cheese slinger who now works at General Assembly, was drafted to work at the Columbia University chapter’s deli his sophomore year of college. The students were given the basics to work with—cheese, bread, butter, and a George Foreman grill—but "took the liberty to get creative and bring in our own stuff," says Hepner.

Ultimately, he believes that the deli suffered from its close proximity to other campus eateries. But Hepner says he would encourage today’s students to get involved. "I’d tell them to be proactive and to find really fun creative ways to get the word out and make it relevant to students, get involved in special events, and make it as fun and engaging as possible because it’s for a great cause," he says.

In addition to collecting funds from the delis, FeelGood raises money from outside investors as well as a partnership with (surprise!) The Melt, where customers can round up their purchases to the nearest dollar and donate the difference to FeelGood.

There are currently 23 chapters of FeelGood at universities across the U.S. Last year, they raised a total of $58,000. The goal for this coming school year: $128,000. It’s ambitious, but we should never underestimate the fundraising power of a well-made grilled cheese.

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