When a homeless man asked for spare change from Scarlett Montanaro and Charlotte Cramer as they were walking down a street in Berlin, they did what city-dwellers confronted with homelessness usually do: they told him no. But they couldn't stop thinking about why they'd made that choice.
"We felt a deep sense of empathy with the situation he was in," says Cramer. "We felt guilty for not giving him anything. Yet we still hadn't acted on it, and we realized that we hadn't been giving money to people who are on the streets. But equally, we weren't giving money to big charitable organizations helping the homeless."
The problem, they realized, was the same in both cases—it wasn't clear how those donations would be used. In response, they founded a new social enterprise that lets people help in a very direct way: if you buy a waterproof jacket or a pair of gloves through their store—Crack + Cider—it will be given to a homeless person.
"We decided that we just wanted to create a really simple, totally transparent model for charitable giving," says Cramer.
The name came from a conversation with a homeless person as they were planning the project. "One guy said to us, 'Oh, people just don’t give me cash on the street because they think I'll spend it on crack and cider,'" she says.
In 2015, the startup launched an online store and pop-up shop in London selling essential cold-weather supplies, and partnered with local homeless shelters to distribute the products. This month, they launched a second pop-up in San Francisco at the Tenderloin Museum, in the neighborhood at the heart of the city's homelessness crisis.
They saw the pop-up shop as a way to lend the project credibility for donors. "They can come in and see us, say hello, and touch the items and kind of see the quality for themselves," Cramer says.
Online, the shop explains that each precise price—$18.78 for a backpack, $31.29 for a "canine care pack" with food, a leash, and a warm jacket—is based on a basic markup of the wholesale cost, with any profits used to buy more products and pay for signage, flyers, and some other minimal costs. The founders, who both have full-time jobs elsewhere, don't take any salary for their work.
They plan to create an open-source kit for anyone interested in bringing the shop to a different city; someone in New York has already reached out. "I think the best we can do is just inspire people who do have the opportunity and the privilege to do something, however small that might be," says Cramer.
"You don't need loads of money or investment, just a few hours," she says, then laughs. "A lot of hours."