Is It Wrong to Spend $20,000 for a One-Night Homeless Pop-Up Restaurant?

One Philadelphia man says no, and he's raised over $13,000 in three days. There will even be a DJ and gift bags.

We see a lot of GoFundMe and similar crowdsourcing campaigns coming through our inbox. Many of them are good ideas, but most of them fizzle out without raising much cash. Once in a while, though, someone has an idea that catches on like lighting, and such is the case with Jason Pinardo, who has raised over $13,000 in just three days for his idea: a pop-up restaurant for homeless people in Philadelphia.

Last weekend, the South Philadelphia man was scrolling through Facebook when he saw a friend from Atlanta post a video about a similar project that took place in that Southern town, and he loved the idea. So he shared the video on his own Facebook page and got an immediate response.

“Within minutes, people were emailing me saying, ‘We’d love to do it!'” says Pinardo, 41. “So I set up a GoFundMe page and launched it on Monday night.”

He kicked off the crowdfunding campaign with a goal of $20,000, and by Thursday morning at 10 a.m., he already received $13,203, a number that we had to keep updating as this article was being written. At that rate, he’s likely to not only meet the goal but exceed it. “The power of social media,” he observes.

Pinardo isn’t a chef. He doesn’t own a restaurant. In a distant past, he worked as a bus boy and a waiter. These days, he describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur.” In addition to working in real estate, Pinardo raises money for feature films and has worked on a number of them in various capacities, including the recent Taken 3, where he served as production manager. He’s good at logistics and organizing, two skills that will come in handy once his dream becomes a reality.

Here’s the budget he came up with for the pop-up homeless restaurant, as detailed on the GoFundMe page:

$ 750 – Liability Insurance
$ 6000 – Food; 150ppl @ $40.00/person
$ 450 – Decorations
$ 500 – Site Rental Fee
$ 300 – DJ/Entertainer
$ 7500 – 150 Winter Coats (wholesale at $50/per)
$ 3000 – 150 $20.00 Visa Gift Cards
$ 1500 – 150 small toiletry bags

Yes, there will be decorations, entertainment, and even gift bags. This is no soup kitchen. He wants to give homeless people a memorable night out on the town, and he thinks that this could turn into a homeless version of an annual event that has been criticized for being too elitist.

“It would be great if we could do something like Diner en Blanc for the homeless twice a year,” he says. “We could do one in the spring and then again in the fall, when we would give them all warm coats.”

Details for the pop-up are evolving on a daily basis. He arbitrarily picked the date of February 20th for the event, but that’s not set in stone. And he’s currently scouting for locations. But the plan is to feed 150 people far better than they are used to being fed. The event is expected to last four or five hours.

Of course, $20,000 is a lot of money, and to some, it may seem excessive for a one-night dinner party, no matter how kindhearted the idea is. After all, the homeless already have options for food at Philadelphia’s soup kitchens, and you could take that $20,000 and house and feed a homeless family of four for an entire year, while providing additional assistance to get them working and back on their feet.

Broad Street Ministry has been feeding the hungry for seven years, and says its food cost is no more than two dollars per person per meal. There are six meals each week. In other words, if that $20,000 were in the hands of Broad Street Ministry, that money could provide enough food for at least 10,000 meals.

“We were just talking about this at our management meeting today,” says Broad Street Ministry development director Theresa Malandra. “We think Jason Pinardo has great intentions to help people who are experiencing homelessness and poverty in Philadelphia. We are always happy to see people invested in lifting up vulnerable people in our city. He is highlighting a desperate situation for 186,000 of people living in deep poverty in Philadelphia. However we feel that this pop-up restaurant may not be the best use of these funds. It would be better if instead of hosting one or even a few of these events, invested individuals, like Mr. Pinardo, and organizations would come together to offer meals and services for people who are homeless.”

“There’s really no way to justify this,” admits Pinardo. “But there’s also no wrong way to help a person. My goal is to give somebody hope, and if we feed 150 people and just one person walks away with a sense of hope he can build on, that $20,000 is absolutely worth it.”

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.