We had the good fortune of connecting with Connie Charney and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Connie, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
People want to give back, They want to spend their dollars in a socially conscious manner. They want to do good, spread kindness, and pay it forward. Especially now. That’s the most important factor behind our success.
People are actively looking for ways to incorporate giving back into their daily lives. They’re looking for products with purpose. Our greeting cards that give back and feed the hungry do exactly that.
What should our readers know about your business?
Food for Thoughts Cards is a greeting card company that gives back. With the purchase of each bread-outlined greeting card, we donate the cash equivalent of one PB&J to an organization that feeds the hungry!
The backstory is simple. For twelve years, I taught a course in the Department of Occupational Therapy at New York University. I took the train from my home in Morristown New Jersey to Penn Station New York every Thursday, headed to the Washington Square campus. Walking downtown, the plight of the homeless and hungry was undeniable. Men and women in need were on street corners, sitting on sleeping bags or cardboard boxes to protect themselves from the elements, perhaps holding signs asking for food or money. Having lived in Greenwich Village for fourteen years during graduate school and beyond, this wasn’t unfamiliar to me. But it was increasingly disturbing to me.
I began packing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to give to someone in need. I learned the art of sandwich-giving, including putting the sandwich in a clear plastic bag, not in a “school lunch” paper bag. (Would you accept a paper bag from a stranger? I think not.) I learned to make eye contact and share the human connection of giving and receiving. I was giving about fifty PB&J’s per year person-to-person.
Fifty sandwiches a year wasn’t enough, though. Not when 38 million people across our country experience food insecurity (defined as not having consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life). Not when that includes 12 million children. According to Feeding America, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic “over 60 million Americans turned to food banks and community programs for help putting food on the table in 2020.” One in seven children was going to bed hungry, according to No Kid Hungry. I needed to act. It was time to take my sandwich-giving up a notch.
Sidebar… I’ve always loved snail mail. It’s a feel good moment when you send a card knowing it will make someone smile. Sure, email and texts are fine, but there’s nothing like finding a handwritten note or card in the mail. That’s pure happiness in my book.
And so began the marriage of two passions – feeding the hungry and sending greeting cards. Sitting at my kitchen table, I sketched the outline of a bread crust on a 5X5 piece of cardstock and put the words “wishing you the happiest of birthdays” in the center. Food for Thoughts Cards was born!
I assembled a small team of family and friends, all believers in giving back through products with purpose, and we set out to feed the hungry one PB&J at a time through the sale of greeting cards. To date, we’ve donated the cash equivalent of over 72,000 PB&J’s to organizations that feed the hungry across the country. Giving fifty sandwiches a year person-to-person, it would have taken me 1440 years to reach that number!
Here’s the best part… partnerships. Retailers who sell our cards are encouraged to select a local food pantry, food bank, or soup kitchen as the recipient of our donation for cards that they sell. Their “shop local, shop small” customers buy cards knowing that their purchase is benefiting their local community. It’s a win-win!
Did I mention our card designs? The bread crust was only the start. Our graphic artist uses a palette of purples, reds, and browns within the bread outline creating a subtle and relatable shout-out to the iconic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. People love our designs and the opportunity to do good by sending a card and feeding someone in need. A card. A stamp. A smile. A sandwich.
I was once asked the long term goal for Food for Thoughts Cards. The answer was to go out of business – because all of the hungry people had been fed. Until then, we’ll keep selling cards and donating PB&J’s.
One card purchased = One sandwich donated.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Morristown New Jersey has been my home since 2007. It has an urban vibe with restaurants, entertainment, shopping, and plenty of culture. Yet within five minutes you can find a quiet retreat at Jockey Hollow, Morristown’s National Historic Park, the site of the 1779-1780 winter encampment for George Washington and 12,000 troops during the Revolutionary War. We’d hike there.
The Morris Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, is a hidden gem. The Georgian-style mansion houses the world’s most important collections of mechanical musical instruments (think player pianos and more) and automata (robotic figures of animals and people). A day spent among its treasures is a must do.
Essential to any Morristown visit is a stop at Just Jersey, a welcoming brick and mortar store with products from over 250 makers from The Garden State (and yes, that includes Food for Thoughts Cards). Through the sale of our giving-back greeting cards at Just Jersey, we have donated the cash equivalent of over 6500 PB&J’s to Nourish.NJ and Toni’s Kitchen, feeding those in need locally. We love #neighborshelpingneighbors.
But enough about historic Morristown. Day trips will take us to New York City sights, the beach at the Jersey Shore, and skiing and snowboarding resorts. Yes, we’ve got the city, the beach and the mountains all within an hour or so.
But the BEST. DAY. EVER. will be hands-on volunteering. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine in New York City (and seven other regions of the US) enlists volunteers to redistribute excess food to feed people experiencing food insecurity. You sign up for a one-hour time slot (a food rescue) and transport leftover food from restaurants, shops, and office buildings and deliver it to soup kitchens and social service agencies where it feeds those in need. You push a shopping cart of food from place to place (donor to recipient). It’s exhilarating. Food that would have gone to waste will feed someone thanks to your one hour commitment (and pushing the cart is a good workout, too). RLC’s motto is “Working to feed people, not landfills.” Or perhaps we’ll join a run with Bridges Outreach, a non-profit organization that distributed over 100,000 brown bag lunches to the hungry in Newark NJ and New York City in 2021. Food for Thoughts Cards has happily made donations to these organizations. Their work is essential and we’re proud to be a small part of it.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
It was Thanksgiving eve. My brother had been given a turkey by his employer. Kind of last minute, I thought, but perhaps the local food pantry could find a family in need of a holiday meal. I knew where to go although there was no sign posted. Just a side door of a building near the county courthouse.
Standing in the shadows, I rang the bell. It felt clandestine. A hunched-over little man, working the late shift to help those in need, answered the door. In a hushed and gentle voice he asked, “Is there something you need or do you have something to give?” I was stunned. This man was offering me food. I pointed to my car and told him that, though late for Thanksgiving, I had a turkey to give. He followed me as I popped open my trunk and he wrapped his arms lovingly around that turkey. As he headed back inside “Happy Thanksgiving,” he said under his breath.
People find inspiration in unexpected times and places. That was my time. That was my place.
Equally so, those who are hungry and homeless deserve recognition in my story. Nameless people whose paths have crossed mine have had a great impact on the success of my small business, Food for Thoughts Cards. They are the ones who locked eyes with me as I handed them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the streets of New York City. Their contribution to my story is immeasurable.
And yes, a husband who believes in you makes a world of difference too, and I’m thankful for mine.
Linkedin: Connie Charney
Facebook: Food for Thoughts Cards
Maggie Yuracheck Photography – for the card photos