About two years ago, Jennifer Capracotta and Jennifer Fantozzi saw a friend struggle with the impact COVID-19 had on their newly opened restaurant in North Providence. The two decided to make a donation to give the restaurant a boost, but asked that a portion of the funds also be used to help feed food-insecure families in the area.
Capracotta, an office manager at a dentist office, and Fantozzi, who works in marketing in the financial services industry, have never operated a nonprofit before. Yet that initial donation is what sparked their idea for Plates with Purpose, an organization designed to help close the gap on food insecurity while also giving independent restaurants a boost.
Q: How does Plates with Purpose work?
Capracotta: We sit down with a restaurant we plan on partnering with and explain that the dollar value per meal is about $10. We typically ask the restaurant to prepare a meal for $5 and then that other $5 is revenue for the restaurant to support them through this mission as well.
For example, we worked with Kevin O’Donnell at Giusto in Newport, where we gave them $1,500 in total. They prepared 150 meals for those in the community in Newport who needed it. Then, once we team up with a restaurant together, we do a two-week fundraiser. Giusto said they would extend that fundraiser to a month long. So for the entire month of December, they raised enough for another 350 meals.
How do you identify the people or communities that are food insecure?
Capracotta: We are constantly doing research on where the gaps are in each community that we could possibly fill. It’s looking at every city and town and then finding ways we can dive in and find a partner. We’ve partnered with other nonprofits, such as shelter providers, to bring meals to those who need it.
This year, we are really focused on school children. Rhode Island did not continue the universal free lunch program, and we’ve heard from principals and school nurses that there are a ton of kids in Rhode Island that no longer qualify for a free lunch because their parents miss the financial threshold by pennies. We’re trying to work with as many school as we can to get meals to kids that they can also bring home to their families and have for dinner or bring to lunch the next day.
How have you started getting into the schools?
Capracotta: This past summer we had a “juice box challenge” and raised more than 4,500 juice boxes and water bottles to include in all meals that are going out to kids to go along with the meal they are bringing home with them.
What kind of impact have you had?
Fantozzi: In the past two years, we’ve received more than 500 donations that equal just over $50,000. With that, we’ve delivered more than 4,500 meals — and counting — onto the tables and into the hands of those who need it the most in Rhode Island.
How could someone get involved or help if they don’t own a restaurant or work for one?
Fantozzi: About 99 percent of our funding comes from individuals and we have raised more than $51,000. Anyone can donate right on our landing page. But there are also other ways to give. If you’re shopping on Amazon, you can use Amazon Smile and select Plates with Purpose as your charitable organization. Amazon will donate 0.5 percent of the price of eligible purchases. That does not come from your wallet.
We’ve also been selected as a participating charity by Stop & Shop as part of their “Giving Tag” program (which directs a $1 donation to a nonprofit of your choice).
(Corporations and other businesses can also “sponsor” the nonprofit.)
Restaurants, of course, have been hit particularly hard over the last few years. Inflation is making it even worse. How is it impacting your nonprofit’s work?
Capracotta: We’re really lucky that the restaurants we work with are motivated by this mission of helping the community and helping them. But we know food costs are increasing. We are working with chefs to make sure that meals continue to be nourishing since food insecurity is just as much about the type of food than it is the access to it. So far, it has not been an issue, from the restaurant’s perspective, that we’ve had to address.
Fantozzi: However, we’ve seen some of our monthly donors reach out to us and say they need to pull back a little. They want to continue giving, but they need to put their funds into their own household right now.
How could interested restaurants reach out to say they want to get involved?
Capracotta: They just have to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What challenges do you face when trying to do this work?
Fantozzi: We don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding available to us through grants. This isn’t an organization that has been a staple in the community for so long. We’re two years old and will be heading into our third year. Getting the word out — like getting people to choose Plates with Purpose on their Amazon Smile accounts, to donate if they can, or just share our posts on social media — is still a struggle. But it’s how we can we’ll be able to make a difference.
The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at email@example.com.