Artist Profile: FeelGood
I’ve never heard anyone complain about a grilled cheese sandwich. Even the most cumbersome and uninspiring cook — the kind that spikes your blood pressure when you watch them because their sleeve is dangling just a tad too close to the flame, who may not even know how to cook scrambled eggs without burning them — can make a grilled cheese taste good. Two ingredients for a whole five minutes of happiness.
But, eating a grilled cheese is just as easy as making it. What if this basic unit of melting goodness could be used to inspire social change? That’s where FeelGood comes into play.
FeelGood is a national volunteer movement working to end world poverty by 2030. Their vehicle to do so is the grilled cheese. At the University, FeelGood is a student organization that delivers handmade sandwiches to locations on central campus for a donation ranging from three to five dollars. All of the profits go toward eradicating world poverty. It’s that simple.
“World hunger is a problem that seems insurmountable and daunting,” Ross School of Business senior and co-president of the University’s FeelGood chapter Madeline Demeter said in an interview with The Daily. “But grilled cheese sandwiches are super simple and easy. And people love food.”
Some may be skeptical of the monetary impact one sandwich can make, but about one half of the world lives off of less than $2.50 per day. The international poverty line is currently set at $1.90 per day. About 820 million people suffer from world hunger. Anything and everything is helpful to bridge the international gap between the privileged and underprivileged.
“We can have such an impact with just one sandwich,” Demeter said. “People think, ‘If I’m not donating at least $100 then I’m not having an impact,’ and that prevents people from donating when really any amount is powerful and helpful.”
All the money FeelGood raises from grilled cheese sales goes toward the Commitment 2030 Fund: a group of organizations that are dedicated to ending world poverty by the year 2030. A majority of the money raised within these organizations goes toward Asia, Africa and Latin America: places where the need is greatest. FeelGood is optimistic that the Commitment 2030 Fund can accomplish its goal.
“(World hunger) has been halved before, so I feel like it’s foreseeable to do it again,” LSA junior and marketing chair of FeelGood Dylan DeBaun said.
The Commitment 2030 Fund targets world poverty in an environmentally sustainable way instead of “handing-out” money, which often inspires no lasting change in an impoverished community. The Hunger Project, one of the organizations in the alliance, aims to eliminate world hunger in a self-reliant way by ensuring that agricultural and culinary skills taught to the community will be conserved through generations. The Pachamama Alliance works to reduce the risk of infant mortality by providing safe birthing kits to women in the Amazon and training them to be dulas, among other goals. FeelGood is proud to partner with organizations that prioritize sustainability instead of freely giving out money.
“If you go into a community and give them a water purification system — what happens if it breaks?” Demeter said. There’s almost no impact unless the community is taught how to maintain the system and can troubleshoot for problems. This type of lasting change is why FeelGood prefers to think of themselves as partnering with disadvantaged populations instead of viewing their donations as charity.
“We give a hand-up, not a hand-out,” Demeter added.
It’s easy to stigmatize world hunger, especially living in the United States and even just in Ann Arbor.
It can be difficult to put yourself in the shoes of someone malnourished, and as a result many tend to look down on underprivileged individuals. As a student organization, FeelGood seeks to break down this stereotype by starting conversations with their customers and within their meetings.
“It’s inappropriate to call these countries ‘Third World Countries.’ There’s a hugely negative connotation with that,” Demeter said. “They’re born into this situation; it’s not in their control. They’re really just like us.”
Few realize that world poverty has a gender component as well: About 60 percent of those suffering from world hunger are women. This is largely due to the lack of resources female farmers have access to compared to their male counterparts. Women are often given less land to farm on, as well as fewer cattle and seeds. Many organizations that target world hunger focus on women specifically, and FeelGood is no exception.
“We’re a gender-based organization,” DeBaun said. “We focus on empowering women in other countries.” Often times, women are more involved in the community, as well as food production for their family unit. Lifting up women can lead to lifting up an entire community of people.
When FeelGood isn’t running delis, rushing off to make a delivery or dressing up in a giant, plush grilled cheese sandwich suit, they facilitate necessary conversations about world poverty with their members and across campus. They aim to de-stigmatize the issue by making it more well known while still conveying the full gravity of the situation. Every semester comes with a new fundraising goal as well as different areas of monetary allocation.
“It could mean allowing two elected women representatives in India to be trained and supported throughout the course of their five year term, or 23 biodigesters installed in rural villages in Nepal. It could mean 2.5 years of training on water resource management for a one-hand pump in Malawi or 120 safe birthing kits,” Demeter said, speaking on FeelGood’s goal for the fall.
World poverty is understandably grim, but FeelGood tries to tackle the problem with optimism instead.
“When you hand someone a grilled cheese sandwich, they just smile,” DeBaun said. That smile is exactly what FeelGood is aiming for.