Each week, Connie Charney packs a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to give to a person in need when she commutes from New Jersey to Penn Station, headed to New York University where she teaches a course in occupational therapy. She’s been giving sandwiches to the homeless and hungry for years, and, in 2013, was inspired to turn her act of kindness into Food for Thoughts Cards®, a greeting card line that spreads good wishes and good will by giving back.
The brand Connie created incorporates a simple idea with maximum, double-duty impact… send a greeting card, fight hunger. So here’s how it works: with the purchase of each card, Food for Thoughts Cards donates the cash equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to a local food pantry, soup kitchen, or national organization that feeds the hungry. One card = one sandwich.
The altruistic entrepreneur told WYSK, “I was probably giving 40 sandwiches per year to homeless and hungry people around Penn Station. In two years, through Food for Thoughts Cards, we’ve donated the cash equivalent of over 12,000 sandwiches. It would have taken me 300 years to donate that many sandwiches on my own.”
A beautiful homage to the classic sandwich that started this whole journey, every card in Connie’s line features a silhouette of a slice of bread, an idea she initially sketched at her kitchen table. The “crust” frames each of the original card designs that are created by the brand’s talented graphic artist, Clementine Swan. And what we love most is that even the color palette they use is a subtle nod to the almighty PB&J.
Beyond their good looks, there’s even a deep, philosophical component that connects the cards to the sandwich. “A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is one of the most delicious creations ever made. It’s a mixture of two unique things, coming together to form something pretty amazing,” Connie shared. “That’s what Food for Thoughts Cards is for me; a blending of passions – for greeting cards and giving back. And yes, for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
Connie landed her very first retailer – her local stationery store, Cambridge Street Papers in Madison, New Jersey – with a cold, “voice quivering, hands trembling” pitch. Joanne, the store’s owner, bought three dozen cards, and put them in a little basket by the register. From the sale of those first 36 cards, Connie was able to cut her very first donation check, which she delivered in person to the food pantry Joanne requested. Connie arrived as clients were picking up their week’s groceries and volunteers were weighing-in non-perishable food donations. The moment was not lost on her. “It was empowering. I left, and from the parking lot I called and pitched the cards to my next store with confidence.”
To date, through the sale of their cards, Connie and her Food for Thoughts Cards team have donated the cash equivalent of 12,230 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.* While they’re building a brand with a national audience, they also continue to think locally. “When a store sells cards, they may select the food pantry to receive our Food for Thoughts Cards donation.”
Despite the digital hand of technology constantly encroaching on snail mail’s territory, Connie is confident in what she sees as the timelessness of her concept and product. “There’s something about a handwritten note that an e-card will never replace. We say that ‘giving a sandwich is as easy as sealing an envelope.’ So I think we’ll stick with that for now.”
In looking at her brand’s unstoppable growth over the last 24 months, Connie candidly admits that she never dreamed success would happen this quickly or that she would be able to touch as many lives as she has through her cards. So while her proven track record makes her optimistic about how far Food for Thoughts Cards will go, there is one scenario that would make it ok if she had to suddenly close up shop. “I wouldn’t mind going out of business because all the hungry people are fed!”
*UPDATE (February 2016): Since publishing this story one year ago, Connie’s donation number has doubled to the cash equivalent of 24,400 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!