Special Pubs donation story

A plate of food for a good cause — it’s an attractive model for creators and customers that pop-up projects like The Side Hustle are taking advantage of.

“People are always going to donate if it benefits them,” said Ally Smith, one of the co-founders and chefs of The Side Hustle.

The pop-up was founded about three years ago by Smith, Pete Amadhanirundr and Kenny Nguyen and has always donated profits from its events to Georgia- and Athens-based organizations that align with its values, Smith said. These have included Bigger Vision, Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, Southern Fried Queer Pride and Meals on Wheels.

Most recently The Side Hustle has partnered with Mutual Aid Athens, donating a percentage of its profits to the community-led organization that fights for housing and resource accessibility in Athens-Clarke County. From a brunch pop-up on Feb. 7, The Side Hustle was able to donate $650.

“We don’t have our finger on the pulse with the unhoused and unfed community in Athens as well as other people do,” Smith said. “We partnered with Mutual Aid Athens, and they are doing such an incredible job of redistributing goods.”

People like food. And in a city like Athens, where income inequality means some people can afford food and others can’t, many leaders in the food and beverage industry are modifying their services to further community efforts.

Pieces of the puzzle

This idea of mutual aid isn’t necessarily new, but it became more prevalent this past year. Mutual Aid Athens, for example, launched in April 2020 as county residents went into lockdown. Rising unemployment, health concerns and a lack of accessibility to resources pushed people to take matters into their own hands. Mutual aid rose in popularity as state and federal relief became increasingly scarce.

It works like this: Mutual Aid Athens uses social media and public information to connect directly with community members, asking for donations, resources and volunteers. By crowdsourcing and fostering connections within the community, the organization is able to operate autonomously.

“We are all we have,” reads Mutual Aid Athens’ mission statement on Patreon.

Smith, who’s lived in Athens for 10 years, said she’s seen a surge in people wanting to assist in mutual aid efforts. She thinks the pandemic has played a huge part in this, forcing people to “slow down and pay attention.”

“Our houseless community is way larger than I ever thought that it was. And the need for food in this town … so many people go hungry,” Smith said. “People just choose to ignore it, or they’re too busy to dig deeper into this thing. And I’m completely guilty of that.”

So, Smith and her team do what they know how to do. They cook food and serve drinks to people who can afford to spend money. They promote suggested donations. They organize with other local businesses, such as 1000 Faces Coffee or another pop-up, Mouthfeel, and do it all over again. It’s one piece of the puzzle.

Food for good

The Athens Community Fridge represents another leg of mutual aid tied into the local food system. Three locations — two with a refrigerator and one exclusively a pantry — are managed by the Athens Community Fridge organization and serve as centers for accessible, free food.

April McCoy, assistant farm manager at the University of Georgia-run UGArden, has recently overseen making sure there’s enough farm-fresh produce for both community fridge locations. McCoy said UGArden started donating seasonal fruits and veggies in September, in addition to leftover prepared foods from Campus Kitchen at UGA operations.

“I think UGArden and UGA organizations that are focused on sustainability and food justice, they’re in this very unique position. ... There is some amount of money that we can count on to produce and donate as much as we can,” McCoy said. “If we can identify community partners to build relationships with … and begin to understand each other’s needs a little bit more, I think that’s really where the pandemic is kind of leading us.”

Community partnerships and donations are vital to the community fridge model. Refrigerators and pantries were donated, such as local eateries — 40 Watt Club, Heirloom Café and Rashe’s Cuisine — have provided public spaces for the structures. Prepared meals from Prince Avenue’s Daily Groceries Co-op are usually nestled onto the fridge shelves.

In these ways, Athens’ food and beverage industry continues to play a significant role in community organizing. Smith, who works in two different restaurants, sees this kind of involvement as a responsibility.

“I do think that restaurants have a responsibility to provide and be an example for people that are dining in their restaurants,” Smith said. “I do think that there’s a responsibility of the food and beverage industry to bring awareness to these certain things.”