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Lentil as AnythingRecently, The Borgen Project spoke with Emilie Elzvik. She is a 21-year-old student at Northeastern University and former volunteer at Lentil as Anything. Elzvik never imagined herself serving gourmet vegan meals to a table filled with backpackers, refugees and homeless people in Newtown, Australia. But Lentil as Anything changed everything for her.

The Company

Lentil as Anything embodies a rare business model. The menu does not have any set prices. Everyone is welcome to “pay as they feel,” either through a financial donation or volunteering their skills. The founder, Shanaka Fernando, was born in Sri Lanka before becoming a restauranteur and world traveler. In 2000, Fernando began the first Lentil as Anything in St. Kilda to provide a space for local communities to come together and share a meal “disregarding any existing economic and social barriers.”

At the time, Fernando’s concept was a wild idea. Twenty years later, and it has become a booming success. The restaurant chain now claims four restaurants around Australia. Additionally, Lentil as Anything provides over 1000 free meals a week to those people most in need.

Elzvik’s Story

Elzvik began working for Lentil as Anything when she was studying abroad for a semester. “It’s like every hippie’s dream cafe, except customers are not just wealthy teenagers. They are from various socio-economic backgrounds. Some live on the street outside. Some are just traveling through.”

Elzvik points out that many of the volunteers were once customers themselves. “When they can’t pay, they offer their time,” said Elzvik. Lentil as Anything provides just as many employment opportunities as they do meals. Elzvik comments, “I think many people come to volunteer because it gives them a sense of purpose.”

According to Elzvik, there is no such thing as a boring day at Lentil as Anything. “It is no gloomy soup kitchen,” she states. Spices like nutmeg and cinnamon waft through the kitchen. Volunteers twist lemons and grate ginger. Servers dance around the floor, jotting orders down on their notepad. It is always noisy inside; laughter bounces across the walls. On some late nights, there is yoga or an open-mic night in the upstairs space.

So how exactly does this seemingly utopian cafe operate?

Sustainable Food Sourcing

Elvzik recalls that the kitchen being full of “bruised apples” and “funky looking eggplants” that would get thrown out by most restaurants or stores. “Lentil as Anything takes them and turns them into something beautiful,” says Elzvik.

The Department of Agriculture in Australia reports that food waste costs the economy around $20 billion each year. That amounts to about 300kg per person or one in five bags of groceries.

To stock their kitchen, Lentil as Anything takes in the unwanted leftovers from nearby stores. The chain stands by it’s all-vegan menu. The diet is both inclusive and nutrient rich. Elzvik mentions that many visitors would not be able to afford something as “dense and hearty” as a Lentil as Anything meal. Fast food is typically the most affordable option and Lentil as Anything aims to change that.

Volunteership

The restaurant relies heavily on volunteer servers and cooks, like Elzvik.  CNBC reports that around 60% of new restaurants fail within the first year. By a restaurant’s fifth year, that rate jumps
to 80%.

Lentil as Anything is not an exception. The restaurant can’t stay afloat on its own. The Daily Telegraph reports that “it costs Lentil as Anything up to $23,000 a week to keep their doors open – and customer contributions do not come close to covering costs.”

Before coming to Lentil as Anything, Elzvik had no prior customer service experience. She says that volunteering at the restaurant requires no experience at all. Volunteers attend an orientation and receive the necessary training. “What you learn at Lentil can be applied to any future job, especially working with people in a busy environment,” states Elzvik.

Location Matters

Restaurants like Lentil as Anything might not work anywhere. “You need the perfect equilibrium,” claims Elzvik. She explains that in order for this business model to work there has to be enough people donating above the requirement to cover those who cannot afford it.

One of Lentil as Anything’s strategic locations is Newton in Sydney. Newtown is a diverse neighborhood, socially and economically. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that 67% of the Newtown population works full time, 24% part-time and only about 10% identify as unemployed for away from work.

Looking forward

Like many businesses, the pandemic hit Lentil as Anything deeply. On September 25, the restaurant reached out to their social media followers and asked for help to keep Lentil alive.

Lentil as Anything is facing its most significant financial challenge to date. The restaurant is working to raise $300,000 by the end of October. If they don’t reach their goal, they may face closing their doors forever. Donations can be made through their GoFundMe campaign.

The restaurant’s motto is that everyone deserves a seat at the table. Hopefully, Lentil as Anything can serve as a successful business model for many restaurants around the world to address food insecurities.

Miska Salemann
Photo: Unsplash

how much should I donate
How much should I donate? It’s a common question. Even if you have sworn off Facebook and eschew trendy news sites, you have most likely heard about or even witnessed the Ice Bucket Challenge, a social media craze that has resulted in more than $10 million being raised for the ALS Association. The nonprofit, which devotes its time and money to resolving amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (otherwise called Lou Gherig’s Disease), is benefiting from a challenge that tasks participants with donating $100 to ALS or pouring a bucket of ice water on themselves.

While people may simply relish vaguely altruistic deeds or experience a rush from partaking in the same event as Bill Gates and Kermit the Frog, contributing to the Ice Bucket Challenge can accomplish both an admirable goal and leave you better off financially at the end of the year.

The ALS Association’s designation as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization enables people to write off their monetary contributions on their tax forms. While there are numerous rules dictating how much you can donate, as long as the donations are made to the right organization, you can receive a significant tax break.

Let’s say you make $30,000 for your Adjusted Gross Income, or AGI, or net income. If you make a $15,000 monetary donation to the ALS, you can deduct $15,000 from your taxable income/AGI.

Still not clear? Let’s delve a little further. Your AGI is separated into different brackets. The amount you are taxed depends on your marital status, whether you are filing jointly and if you are the head of the household. For our purposes, you are single and making $30,000, slightly greater than the per capita average income from 2008-2012 in the U.S.. Using the tax percentages from 2011, you would pay 10 percent of the first $8,500 and 15 percent for the next $21,500. That means you owe $4,075 in taxes this year.

If you included a $15,000 cash donation to an eligible charity, the greatest amount possible, you would decrease your AGI to $15,000. Overall you would now owe $1,825 in taxes. While you don’t receive a 1:1 tax reduction for charitable donations, Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar calculates that donations lead to a 25 percent return.

While donating fifty percent of your income to a charity may be a reach, keeping track of all your small donations throughout the year can add up. If you have ever donated old clothes to Goodwill, books to a library or money to a church, you can write them off as charitable contributions so long as you provide documentation.

There are many, many rules to tax-deductible charitable donations, the most important of which is determining a charity’s eligibility. Generally churches, nonprofits and any organization bearing a 501(c)(3) designation qualify as recipients. If you are still unsure, the IRS provides a search tool that documents which organizations are eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.

There are also rules about how much you can donate. As discussed previously, cash donations to public organizations may reach up to 50 percent of your AGI. Any additional donations can carry forward for up to five years. Private organizations have different rules and may only constitute 30 percent of your AGI.

For non-cash donations, the IRS permits goods in “good condition or better” to be deducted at their fair market value or the price at which both the buyer and seller agree.

Documentation is needed in these instances as well. Even if you give money, stocks or used goods to a qualified organization, you must provide an itemized list of the donations, proof that the transaction occurred and acknowledgement from the receiving organization if the price of the item exceeds more than $250. Items in excess of $500 must file form IRS Form 8283. Donations in excess of $5,000 may require a qualified professional to appraise their value.

Finally, motive plays a factor. Forbes journalist Tony Nitti wrote an article that examines donor intent and tax breaks. He assures readers that as long as the amount you deduct from your taxes does not exceed the benefits received from donating in the first place you are fine. For example, if you donated $100 to a charity dinner, but the dinner itself was worth $50, then the most you could deduct would be $50, not $100.

Donations to charities may seem like a desirable but imprudent decision to many people. However, if executed wisely and documented clearly, donations can benefit both the donor and the recipient. In short, you can donate however much you would like to charities, but do your research first if you want to guarantee a return on your taxes.

Emily Bajet

Sources: ALS Association, How Stuff Works, IRS 1, IRS 2, Charity Navigator, TurboTax, MoneyChimp, The Simple Dollar, U.S. Census, Forbes, About Money
Photo: which country?

Reasons To Give to Charity
In every place around the world regardless of religious tradition, culture and language, giving to others has always been an idea encouraged for thousands of years. From Lao Tzu to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Prophet Mohammed to St. Thomas Aquinas, the importance of giving to others has been written and spoken about extensively.

Yet, despite the long history of giving, many people today do not donate to any cause for various reasons. It may be that they are unsure how to navigate the vast array of organizations and causes, or that they are hesitant about how their money will be used, or simply they don’t realize what benefit it has on others.

As Aristotle said:

“To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”

Giving is easy, but why and where to give are difficult questions to answer. Listed below are five great reasons why people should give to charity. Deciding where and how much is a personal decision, but there is not much to argue with when it comes to why. In fact, with Americans donating $335.17 billion in 2013 there seems to be some very good reasons for donating.

1. Sense of Purpose

Giving to charity helps you participate in a cause you feel strongly about. Even if you don’t have the time to volunteer, charitable gifts go a long way in helping organizations operate and impact those they help.

In addition, studies show that people who give to charity are happier people. So when faced with the decision of whether to buy an unneeded new pair of shoes or donate that money to a cause, choose the cause. You may not get new shoes, but you’ll be much happier in the long run.

2. You can make a difference

While it may seem that a small donation won’t make a big difference, however even small gifts can have a big impact.

For instance, through programs like Kiva, a nonprofit micro-lender, individuals can loan as little as $25 to help impoverished, would-be entrepreneurs in the developing world start a small business. Many of these people do not have access to a strong banking sector so these loans provide are a great method of empowerment.

To date Kiva has had 860,000 individual lenders participate and has a 99 percent loan payback rate.

3. Donations are often tax-deductible

Giving to money to most charitable organizations has the added benefit of being tax deductible. There are approximately 1, 536,084 charitable organizations in the U.S. according to 2013 data, which means that are plenty of places for people to give.

What does this mean in concrete terms? If someone were to give $100 to a tax-exempt organization of their choice, the donation may actually only turn out to be $65 or less due to tax refunds. The donation not only benefits the organization, but also the individual giving.

4. Matching Gifts can have a big impact

A great way to give to charity is to find an organization or corporation that will do a matching gift. Matching gifts are when a company will match dollar-for-dollar what their employee gives; maximizing the impact of the gift as well as creating a positive image for the company.

Corporations like General Electric, Gap Inc., Boeing, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum, Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft all offer some of the best employee matching gift programs.

5. Create a budget, plan ahead

Whether its $25 or $2500, donations are possible from every budget. Plan a charity budget that allows for a donation each year. Even two percent of your yearly income can make a big difference. For someone making $30,000, that could be around $500 – all of which can be deductible!

Before giving to charity, be sure to do research. Numerous websites exist to help potential donors find out what organizations are most legitimate and what cause they think could benefit most. Like all things in life, research will not only make potential donors better informed, but will also maximize the impact for each donation.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Sweating the Big Stuff, Dime Spring, Giving What We Can, Gaiam, The Guardian,Bank Rate, NP Trust, Live Science
Photo: Business2Community

how much to donate
Determining how to and how much to donate can be awkward. Finding both the sweet spot, that appropriate while not at all depleting amount of cash, and the most influential charities, preferably the ones that include a reasonable explanation of where your money goes exactly, may seem easier than it actually is. Luckily, a plethora of online resources like charity trackers, donation calculation machines and posts such as this one here are designed to help.

Before anyone decides how much of their annual income to give away to charity, he or she should look at the statistics. About 65 percent of households in the United States give some percentage of their earnings to charities. Many give due to religious obligations, but religion-influenced donations in total make up less than a third of annual giving. It’s the norm to be generous, as religious or as secular as one may be.

More data, found by a McClatchy analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reveals that in 2007 the poorest quintile of Americans gave a higher percentage of their incomes to charity than the richest quintile did. While the poorest Americans donated 4.3 percent on average, the richest donated less than half of that, 2.1 percent. Of course, 2.1 percent of a large income dwarfs 4.3 percent of a small one.

Looking at income is a good place to begin to gauge how much one can feasibly give to charities. Instead of giving a fixed amount, try giving a percentage of that income. If 4.3 percent is too high, try 4 or 3.5 percent. If it could be higher, try 5 or 6 percent. As long as a household can still afford the irrefutable necessities and maybe simple luxuries, it’s probably not giving too much.

“You should be able to pay your bills, cover expenses without the use of credit cards and put some savings away for retirement before you make a donation to charities,” says Laurie L. Dove of How Stuff Works, an online educational site.

Paying off mortgages, grocery bills, electricity and heat bills, insurances, etc. is all deemed essential. Other expenses such as snacks at the movie theater or Diet Cokes from Stop&Shop are not. To increase the size and impact of donations, try withholding from hedonist pleasures, the costs of which add up. The more one restrains oneself, the more one saves, and the more one will be able to donate. And, let’s be clear, not having a Diet Coke never hurt anyone.

Even if a household cannot donate what it deems a substantial amount, maybe only 1.5 percent of its annual income, there are certain tricks to facilitate efficacy. One idea is to only give to a single charity. Having significant impact in one area will probably be more rewarding than having little to no impact in many. Good charities can be found at sites like Charity Navigator, BBB and Charity Watch.

Finding highly rated nonprofits is a good bet. As John Stossel from Fox News puts it, the less transparent a charity is, the less one should want to give it money.

“The definition of ‘charitable work’ is rarely clear. How should the board of a nonprofit’s first-class hotel expenses during a trip to Africa be classified?” he asked. “That’s why I give to charities I can watch.”

Another idea is to give monthly. If each donation seems measly, try thinking in the long term: donations are cumulative and in a year, the small monthly donations will coalesce into a larger one. In ten years, the annual donations will coalesce. Not everything has to be given immediately or in the present. Donation schedules help.

It’s understandable if a household living on a limited income can only donate a small amount of money. And fortunately, there are other ways to donate: one can give time by volunteering or canvassing; one can give attention by studying the issue and one can raise awareness by hosting living room forums. These things help, almost as much as a percentage of annual income does.

Adam Kaminski

Sources: Fox News, How Stuff Works
Photo: moils

how-to-pick-charity
There are many great charities out there doing much-needed work to reduce global poverty. Here are some tips on deciding which charity you should give to.

1. Clarify your beliefs

Before you start looking for a charity to give to, be sure you know what you believe. Figure out what missions matter the most to you and your family. Do you care the most about protecting the environment? Fighting human trafficking? Providing education? Once you have selected the category that you care about most, you can begin to research the different methods of solving that problem.

2. Start broad

Use websites like CharityNavigator.org, GuideStar.org or GiveWell.org to learn how different charities in the category you picked spend their money. Sites like these aggregate tax information and other records you can use to learn how different charities spend their money.

3. Do your research

Find a clear description of the charity’s mission, programs and achievements. Figure out what their goals are, how they measure their success and how they use that information to function better. If you can’t find this information easily, be wary. But be aware that some problems are hard to solve. Don’t place a dollar sign on a human life. Some organizations invest thousands of dollars rescuing women and children from slavery because, simply put, extracting slaves is hard and expensive.

Nancy Lublin CEO of DoSomething.org  knows that “Low overhead doesn’t necessarily mean an organization is awesome at fighting poverty, or that its turnover is low and its people productive. And it certainly doesn’t guarantee that the group is spending wisely.”

Lublin cited Apple as an example from the for-profit world of a company with high overhead but incredible products.

“According to Apple’s Q4 2008 report, 78% of its expenses were sales, general, and administrative — the corporate equivalent of overhead. Seventy-eight percent! Yet nobody flinches,” she wrote.

4. Contact the charity and become personally involved

If you’re going to establish a long-term relationship with an organization, take the time to call them, or at least email them about your interest. Best of all, take the time to become personally involved in the charity you donate to allows you incomparable insight into how they operate.

“Be very reluctant to give to strangers,” Dan Moore, vice president of public affairs for GuideStar, an online source of financial information on charities told NBC. “If you know the organization and you know their work, you will know with some degree of confidence that your gift will be put to good use.”

5. Trust your gut

If an organization seems questionable, don’t give. Find a group that you feel comfortable supporting and give what you can.

Picking a charity to support can be daunting but taking the time to give well is incredibly rewarding.

– Sally Nelson

Sources: Fast Company, NBC
Photo: Infiniti

Time_Towards_Change
In just one month in 2012, Americans spent a combined 230,060 years on social media according to the annual Nielsen Report. That’s about 6.5 hours per person, if every American used social media, and a whopping 121 billion minutes total. That was two years ago, and social media platforms and usage continue to grow.

That we have managed to collectively squeeze thousands of years worth of time out of just one month is amazing, a true feat that proves the potential for impact when an entire society chooses to dedicate time to one purpose. That this feat was accomplished in the name of liking, posting, commenting and pinning is disheartening. We can do better.

Imagine the improvements to our world if every American spent even half that time, about three hours every month, addressing global poverty issues and working toward solutions. We can no longer claim we don’t have time to make the world a better place.

Here are five ways to put your time toward change:

1. Take a free class on global issues (1-5 hours per week)

Educate yourself on the problems and solutions of global poverty! There are many free courses offered online by prestigious universities that focus on issues like global health and development. Auditing or taking a class for credit is a great way to learn about the current landscape of global poverty issues, and what we can do about them.

Check out sites like coursera.com and openculture.com to access free classes from top universities around the world. Many universities now offer free classes through their websites as well.

Multiply your impact: Take it one step further and share what you’ve learned with your friends, family and community. Give a talk at a local school, write an op-ed for your newspaper or hold a fundraiser. Most importantly, spread the good news; although it sounds too big to conquer, we CAN (and have) reduced global poverty rates.

2. Send a care package (1-2 hours to a weekend project)

Basic supplies can make all the difference. Consider the fact that women and girls around the world miss days of school and work because they lack access to feminine hygiene products/menstrual pads. These collective days of missed income and education add up to real economic losses, keeping women in the cycle of poverty. Girls are forced to use whatever they can find — newspapers, leaves, rocks — as sanitary supplies, and are sometimes exploited in exchange for hygiene.

Days for Girls distributes sustainable feminine hygiene kits made by individuals and groups in the U.S. to women and girls around the world. The website includes patterns, instructions and videos so that you can get involved and sew reusable pads for the organization to send. There is also information about joining a kit-sewing chapter near you and tips for starting your own, as well as ways to help if you can’t sew.

Imagine trying to run a school without chalkboards, books or pencils. Check out organizations like Books for Africa, International Book Project and Kids to Kids International to learn more about how to send books and supplies to schools and kids around the world.

Multiply your impact: Enlist the help of your team, group or classroom to hold book and school supply drives, and make care packages together. Gather your crafty friends and have a hygiene kit sewing party.

3. Contact Congress to secure support for essential poverty-reducing legislation (30 seconds to 2 minutes)

Getting in touch with your congressional leaders is surprisingly easy and highly effective. Because congressional leaders want to track what issues are important to constituents, their staffers tally every issue and bill the office receives calls, letters and emails about. Every contact you make counts (literally) and even one email means your issue or bill is on the leader’s radar.

The Borgen Project’s Action Center page lists current bills relevant to global poverty and includes links to send a formal email to congressional leaders for each. Just fill out your contact info once, and then click to send emails urging support for crucial legislation. Use the link at the bottom of the page to read more about each bill.

Click here to search congressional phone numbers by your zip code, and here for tips on making the call. It’s as easy as saying, “I’m a constituent and a Borgen Project supporter, calling to ask (leader name) to support the (Water for the World Act).”

And if you have more than two minutes to spare, you can write your own letter or email to Congress. Click here for tips and samples to get started!

Multiply your impact: Call weekly, and enlist friends and family members to do the same. Forward a link to the Action Center to your address book. Host a letter and/or email-writing party on your campus, with your friends or in your community.

4. Volunteer your time and skills to the cause

There are plenty of ways to impact global poverty without leaving your city. A quick Google or GuideStar search will return many volunteer opportunities and ways to get involved with international aid organizations based in your area. These groups need volunteers for everything from packing boxes of supplies for relief efforts, to helping organize runs, fundraisers and other community events, to representing the organization by tabling events.

Hands-on volunteer projects abroad are also great — if you possess the skills necessary to be successful. Consider your skill sets when choosing a project, and avoid things like signing up to build a school if you know nothing about bricklaying. Taking part in projects in which you can’t actually be helpful can do more harm than good. Instead, focus on what skills you have to offer and choose volunteer opportunities accordingly.

Multiply your impact: Ask staff to stay in touch about upcoming activities, and volunteer regularly. Bring friends and family along. Use social media to advertise any organization events or upcoming volunteer opportunities.

5. Write a check (30 seconds!)

There are many deserving organizations working on a host of issues related to global poverty. GuideStar is a great place to search for nonprofits of interest to you, or start right here and give to The Borgen Project! Donating is a quick and easy way to make a difference.

Multiply your impact: Sign up to give monthly. Practice deferring — writing a small donation check instead of that cup of coffee, movie or dinner out you could do without. Ask the company you work for to consider donating to The Borgen Project and other global poverty organizations.

— Sarah Morrison

Sources: Nielsen, The Borgen Project, BooksForAfrica, CongressMerge
Photo: Wallpapers Craft