FoodCircles feeds hungry children and gives users free perks


Photo courtesy Jonathan Kumar

For Calvin junior Ruthy Berends, 20, Olive’s restaurant in Eastown is a favorite that is close to home.

But now when she and a friend go out to eat, she gets a free drink and feeds a child in need — just by using her cellphone.

Thanks to a company called FoodCircles, people can use a cell phone app to feed hungry children locally and internationally while earning free drinks and appetizers at 20 local restaurants.

“All you have to do is go out to eat,” said Berends. “It’s one of those ways you can incorporate service into something you’d be doing anyway. It’s not like you’re volunteering your time or anything like that.”

Berends says the process is straightforward.

First, users find a restaurant using the app on their phone and selects the deal they want. Then, when they go to the restaurant, they show the voucher on their phone to get their free dessert or appetizer. When they redeem the voucher, FoodCircles also donates one meal to a child in need.

Users can choose whether to donate a meal to Kids Food Basket in Grand Rapids, Mich. or to World Vision to feed children internationally. More than 1,000 children have been fed since the company created the app in May.

Restaurants pay an advertising fee to FoodCircles, which is used to pay for the donated meal. In return, FoodCircles is expected to draw in a set amount of profit for the restaurant.

Grant Bouwer, a Calvin senior who is interning with FoodCircles, said that the business is especially worthwhile for college students.

“As college students, we’re eating out all the time and constantly looking for deals and free food,” he said. “FoodCircles not only provides those deals for students with literally the touch of a button, but also provides something else Calvin students are hungry for: social justice.”

Jonathan Kumar started FoodCircles with the goal of making it easy to help children who are struggling to get enough food each day.

“Our mission is repurposing dining to take the dining of the privileged to feed the underprivileged,” said Kumar. “Doing something that you’re going to be doing anyway can make an impact and is a great way to become a good social activist.”

Since the company is relatively young, Kumar sees changes and expansion on the horizon for the FoodCircles.

Kumar explained that the free appetizer or drink is an introductory program. Soon, the drinks and appetizers will cost $1 to cover the cost of the donated meal.

The company also hopes to expand to other cities in Michigan, including Lansing and Detroit, and hopes to move further into the Midwest, including Chicago.

They are also giving the opportunity to decorate the paper bags that hold the locally donated meals.

“It’s hard to accept a handout, a nameless meal that some organization gave to you,” said Kumar. “But when these bags have messages or notes or Bible verses, it makes it a lot easier for the kids to accept.”

But in order for their plans to succeed, the company — and Ruthy Berends — encourage people to download the app and give it a try.

“It doesn’t really require anything from you,” she said. “There would be no reason for everyone not to use it.”