Posts Tagged ‘pay it forward’

Have you ever run into one of those pay-it-forward situations — when a stranger does you a small favor and then you choose if you want to do the same for another person? I was in line to buy coffee at a Jamaica Plain shop a couple years ago when the person in front paid for me. Then I paid for the person behind me. Fun. I blogged about the phenomenon here and here. It can be about helping someone who has few resources, but not necessarily.

Here’s a recent example of the practice. It involves theater tickets.

“A theatre in Rome has taken the tradition of ‘suspended coffees’ — where a person buys an extra drink for someone less well-off — and applied it to tickets.

“The initiative [ran] for just over two weeks at the Teatro delle Muse, where people buying tickets for a variety show [purchased] an extra seat at a reduced price to leave at the box office for someone else … The aim is to use a small charitable gesture to make the theatre accessible to everyone. The comedy show, called ‘You Are Not Neapolitans,’ [started] on 16 February. …

“The ‘caffe sospeso’ tradition originates in Naples, the idea being that when ordering your coffee you also anonymously gift another to a stranger in need. The idea has now spread internationally, and in some places has been adapted to include pizza or other food items. In a nod to the original Neapolitan custom, the theatre’s donated tickets [came] with a steaming cup of coffee … courtesy of a local bar.”

More here. Il Messaggero reported the story, and the BBC passed it on.

I’d love to know if you have encountered this kind of thing. Panera Cares, for example, was a noble experiment begun during the economic downturn in 2010 to help the hungry, but I read that the some of the locations ran into trouble.

Photo: Google Maps
The initiative at Teatro delle Muse is called “Theatre and Coffee… on hold for you”

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I can’t resist a story about people “paying it forward” — helping others as they have been helped. Today’s story is set in Afghanistan.

Maija Liuhto writes for the “Making a Difference” series of the Christian Science Monitor, “At a school in the capital of Afghanistan, little boys wearing oversize white uniforms hurry down a flight of stairs to make it to judo practice, while girls in colorful headscarves eagerly wait for their tailoring class to begin upstairs. Hashmatullah Hayat, a project supervisor at the school, offers advice to the children who pop into his office asking about their computer classes or English homework.

“All this may sound like a typical scene. But Aschiana is not a regular school. And Mr. Hayat may best symbolize what this school is accomplishing.

“The boys and girls who study here are street children. Some of them spend much time selling balloons to passersby or collecting plastic on streets that are ruled by gangs and drug lords.

“Hayat was once one of these children. But while still a boy he found his way to Aschiana, taking a special interest in its painting classes.

“Now he’s a smiling young man with impeccable English, the walls of his office decorated with his own impressive artwork.

“Hayat’s life story has become an inspiration to the children who are struggling to get off the streets. And he’s determined to help them as much as he can, even though living somewhere else could be less risky.

“ ‘No, you cannot say that you feel safe here,’ he says. But for him, leaving the work he is doing is not on the table: ‘If the people at Aschiana were able to help me, then I should also be able to help others.’

“Aschiana operates in various corners of Afghanistan, and it is currently helping about 5,700 boys and girls get access to basic education.” More about Hashmatullah Hayat here.

Photo: Maija Liuhto
After being a student at Aschiana, where he learned art well enough to start selling it at 16, Hashmatullah Hayat now works there and helps to educate street children.

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Some initiatives that are costly up front have benefits that far outweigh those costs but don’t show up for years. Even then, people may disagree about what caused the outcomes.

One such initiative sends nurses to new mothers who are young, poor and often friendless to help ensure that their babies get a leg up in life.

At the Washington Post

“A high school senior learns that she’s pregnant — and she’s terrified. But a registered nurse comes to visit her in her home for about an hour each week during pregnancy, and every other week after birth, until the baby turns 2. The nurse advises her what to eat and not to smoke; looks around the house to advise her of any safety concerns; encourages her to read and talk to her baby; and counsels her on nutrition for herself and her baby.

“This kind of support, with trained nurses coaching low-income, first-time mothers, is among the most effective interventions ever studied. Researchers have accumulated decades of evidence from randomized controlled trials — the gold standard in social science research — following participants for up to 15 years. They have consistently found that nurse coaches reduce pregnancy complications, pre-term births, infant deaths, child abuse and injury, violent crimes and substance abuse. What’s more, nurse coaches improve language development, and over the long term, cognitive and educational outcomes.

“Nurse coaching is a vital tool that addresses both the liberal concern about income inequality and the conservative concern about inequality of opportunity. …

“Still, nurse coaching reaches only 2 to 3 percent of eligible families. Which raises the question: if it’s so successful — and people on both sides of the aisle support it — why can’t it be scaled to reach every eligible family?”

There are two stumbling blocks according to the reporters: First, funding must be cobbled together from numerous unpredictable sources; second, the costs are up front, whereas the benefits to government and society appear over time.

“If nurse coaching were fully scaled to reach every eligible family, the costs to state and federal governments would outweigh the savings for the first five years. But then the savings would start to outweigh the costs. Over 10 years, the net savings would be $2.4 billion for state governments and $816 million for the federal government.”

So the question becomes: do we have the patience? More here.

A similar initiative that Suzanne started supporting when she lived in San Francisco focuses on homeless mothers. Read about the great results of the Homeless Prenatal Program here.

Photo: iStock
When nurses coach low-income moms, their babies benefit.

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The concept of paying it forward has been flourishing in Naples, at least with regard to buying a cup of coffee for someone who can’t afford one.

Recently, reporter Gaia Pianigiani interviewed Neapolitans about the “suspended coffee practice. Coffee shop customer Laura Cozzolino explained, “ ‘As a Neapolitan who tries to restrict herself to four coffees a day, I understand that coffee is important. It’s a small treat that no one should miss.’

“The suspended coffee is a Neapolitan tradition that boomed during World War II and has found a revival in recent years during hard economic times.

“From Naples, by word of mouth and via the Internet, the gesture has spread throughout Italy and around the world, to coffee bars as far-flung as Sweden and Brazil. In some places in Italy, the generosity now extends to the suspended pizza or sandwich, or even books. …

“In a time of hardship, Italians can lack many things, but their coffee is not one of them. So it may be the most common item left at many cafes, as a gift, for people too poor to pay.”

More at the NY Times.

Photo: Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
Receipts are left to be claimed by those who are unable to afford a cup of coffee. 

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Thanksgiving-in-Prov-RIEarlier this month I wrote about a restaurant founded on gratitude. I liked something the owner said: “gratitude spills over,” meaning if someone does something nice for you it makes you feel like doing something nice for someone else. It got me thinking more about  gratitude, and I decided to make a list.

Suzanne’s Mom is grateful for: A peaceful neighborhood to live in, shelter, food, clothing, other people, a way to make a living, music, art, theater, books, poetry, nature. And especially, my family and a baby who lights up with a megawatt smile when I arrive, a one-year-old who wants to snuggle on the rug with a book, and a three-year-old who exclaims with wonder, “Grandma! Are you my daddy’s mommy?!”

Photo: AllSeasons4Tenants

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Pavithra Mehta writes at Yes! Magazine about a network of restaurants where guests are asked to “pay it forward.”

Mehta’s explanation is a little far out for me, but I know I wouldn’t mind eating at one of these places. They sound cheerful. And I would be happy to pay it forward.

“In Berkeley, Calif.,” Mehta writes, “the Karma Kitchen restaurant bases its business on the concept of gratitude. Each visitor can pay nothing or voluntarily pay for a meal for a future guest. …

“The bill comes with a note that explains their meal was a gift from someone who came before them. If they wish to pay it forward, they can make a contribution for someone who comes after them …

“More than six years [after its founding], Karma Kitchen is still going strong. It has served more than 30,000 meals and now has chapters in half-a-dozen cities around the world. And it is all sustained by gratitude.

“Karma Kitchen works on the deceptively simple premise that the heart that fills, spills. The nature of gratitude is to overflow its banks and circulate. It does not stand still. But remove that ineffable quality from the equation, and the virtuous cycle breaks down.

“The sociologist Georg Simmel called gratitude ‘the moral memory of mankind.’ It serves to connect us to each other in small, real, and human ways. Remove it from the fabric of our lives, and all relationship becomes an endless series of soulless transactions.”

More at Yes! here.

Video: Seva Café , Gujarat, India

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Around the country, generous people have been “paying it forward”– doing a good deed for someone else that was done for them.

Only in this case, it’s more backward than forward because it involves paying for whatever the person behind you at the drive-thru has ordered. It’s become surprisingly widespread, according to Kate Murphy, writing at the NY Times today.

“If you place an order at the Chick-fil-A drive-through off Highway 46 in New Braunfels, Tex., it’s not unusual for the driver of the car in front of you to pay for your meal in the time it took you to holler into the intercom and pull around for pickup. …

“You could chalk it up to Southern hospitality or small town charm. But it’s just as likely the preceding car will pick up your tab at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through in Detroit or a McDonald’s drive-through in Fargo, N.D. Drive-through generosity is happening across America and parts of Canada, sometimes resulting in unbroken chains of hundreds of cars paying in turn for the person behind them.

“Perhaps the largest outbreak of drive-through generosity occurred last December at a Tim Hortons in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when 228 consecutive cars paid it forward. A string of 67 cars paid it forward in April at a Chick-fil-A in Houston. And then a Heav’nly Donuts location in Amesbury, Mass., had a good-will train of 55 cars last July.” More.

I love the idea, but I think I missed something. Do you give the order taker an extra $20 and get the change when you pick up your meal at the next window? Or does the cost of the stranger’s meal have to go on your credit or debit card?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Drive-thru food outlet

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