Pa. ‘Breadcoin’ program borrows concept from cryptocurrency to feed needy

4 views 9:02 am 0 Comments November 21, 2023

Taco Amigos is ideally situated in a desirable, high-pedestrian traffic spot.

But its location in downtown Harrisburg also attracts several homeless people — many of whom rummage through the trash bin out front.

For the longest time, owner Marcel Childs and his wife, Victoria Valencia, tried their best to chase after them with a donation of a taco or two.

Then, last year, they heard about a new program to feed people facing food insecurity that could benefit their business: Breadcoin.

The national program works on the principle of cryptocurrency using prepaid tokens that act like currency and can be donated to those in need to use as payment at participating restaurants.

For Childs, it was the perfect solution to a problem: The program allows him to help feed those facing hunger and food insecurity while looking after the financial interests of his business.

“You don’t have to refuse anyone because they can’t pay,” said Childs, who became a participating Breadcoin vendor in September 2022.

Since enrolling in the program, Childs has seen a diverse and growing list of customers paying for their meals with Breadcoin tokens, from college students and single moms to recovering drug addicts and homeless individuals.

“We get people that wouldn’t otherwise walk into the restaurant because they don’t have money,” Childs said. “We give them a meal. We’ve even opened up the menu if they have the tokens and can pay. It’s great. They can feed themselves and feed their families.”

Since its launch in the Harrisburg region last year, Breadcoin has had a fast-growing impact. The list of participating restaurants that accept the Breadcoin tokens as payment has doubled, and so has the donor list (those who gift Breadcoin tokens) and the participating restaurants.

“We care about food security and feeding hungry people,” said David Vader, a professor emeritus at Messiah University, who helped establish Breadcoin PA Capital Region. “Many heroic people and organizations have been working to end food insecurity in our region for a long time. We are excited to join that team.”

Vader describes Breadcoin as an innovative economic tool that connects people in the community, feeds hungry people with dignity, and supports local businesses.

“If you lack access to a kitchen, then the food pantry wouldn’t be quite as useful to you,” Vader said. “I love how it increases points of connection and inclusion in the community and in community events that involve food. We gather around the table and would love for everyone to be welcomed. For everyone to have access.”

Breadcoin is fast becoming a favorite tool at community gatherings that involve food or the sale of food. It opens access to the food to everyone.

“Some of us can afford to pay for our meals,” Vader said. “We love it when organizers of events use Breadcoin to make sure folks who might not be able to participate because they don’t have money can participate.”

Food deserts represent a challenge in three Harrisburg-area communities, posing difficulties in accessing fresh and healthy food options.

Advocates who work with people facing food insecurity nationwide are seeing near-record-high levels of demand for food assistance, including locally.

A selling point for Breadcoin is that it allows people facing hunger or food insecurity to accept assistance – and eat out – with their dignity intact.

“They get a choice,” said Aisha Mobley, a Breadcoin Capital Region representative. Mobley has for years worked with service organizations that serve the homeless population. “There are plenty of good charities that are feeding people, but we choose for them what they are going to eat. This gives a choice. Who doesn’t like having the option to go into a restaurant and get what they want? Maybe I want tacos? Maybe pizza? Maybe southern cuisine or smoothie.”

Here’s how it works: The token is worth $2.50 and is used as payment at participating locations, many of which have set Breadcoin menus allowing people to pay for a meal with four tokens. There are two options: Breadcoins can be purchased monthly for donation and used by anyone to pay for meals at some 20 participating area restaurants.

The other option is to set up a recurring donation for community partners. For instance, one partner, Hamilton Health Center, includes the tokens as incentives for vaccinations and HIV testing. Tears for Tarina, a safe house for women survivors of domestic violence, distribute the tickets to their clients.

“It’s such a great program,” said Erica Bryce, owner of City House Bed & Breakfast, a monthly donor who recently held a fundraiser for the program.

“It’s not just about food insecurity. What I love about it is that it combines the food program with supporting local businesses. You not only get fed, but you go out for a meal. You sit around the table with people. There are so many community relationships built by breaking bread together. That’s what is great about this.”

Breadcoin doesn’t just help people in need. Participating restaurants, too, can reap benefits from the program.

Breadcoin extends micro-loans to restaurateurs for renovations and upgrades, using the program financing structure to pay back the loans.

That’s what Childs, owner of Taco Amigos, did. A few months after enrolling in the program, he took out a Breadcoin loan to finance renovations at his restaurant.

The loans are based on the number of token redemptions, so the more a food vendor accepts, the more financial opportunity is extended to them.

“It’s a win-win for both parties,” he said. “I enjoy it because I’ve seen all kinds of people coming through my restaurant, and being able to provide them with food is awesome for me.”

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