Antonio Brown wants to make a positive difference for the Black and brown boys who come into his St. Petersburg barbershop, Central Station Barbershop & Grooming.
Many are raised by single mothers, see no black male teachers in the classroom and struggle with reading skills, he says. Brown sees his barbershop, a gathering place for men in the community, as an ideal venue to help them develop their reading skills under the guidance of a male role model. His Barbershop Book Club offers free books and free haircuts to children who read books from an in-shop library aloud while getting their haircuts.
For children who don't often find characters who look like them or share their life experiences in the books at school, the book club offers culturally relevant stories and profiles of important figures in Black American history. Brown wants to help the children build a home library of books with characters who share their “name, image, likeness.”
“Some kids don’t like to read,” Brown says. “They talk about how they hate reading. So one of the key components in this program is black male encouragement because a lot of single moms bring their children in for haircuts and don’t have dads at home to encourage or help with homework. So this is a nice space, a safe space, for single moms to bring their children to get some encouragement from someone they’re going to grow up to look like one day about how important is to read and how important it is to fall in love with reading, where reading can take you, what reading can do for you and the positions it will put you in.”
Brown is one of the local non-profit organization leaders who recently showcased their group’s mission and vied for cash prizes to help meet that mission at Social Venture Partners (SVP) Tampa Bay’s annual Fast Pitch competition. That early November evening at The Palladium in St. Petersburg, Brown’s Barbershop Book Club won the competition’s $15,000 first prize. Antonio Brown, owner of Central Station Barbershop & Grooming and founder of the Barbershop Book Club, thanks the judges after winning first place at Social Venture Partners Tampa Bay's 2022 Fast Pitch event.
He plans to use the money to again expand a program that once grew to 11 barbershops but had to scale back to one because of the cost of keeping the mini-libraries in each shop stocked with books to donate. He also wants to take the program mobile. The plan is to get a bus equipped with a barber chair and stocked with books to take to after-school programs and local events.
Celebrating nonprofits that help the community
This year was the Tampa affiliate of SVP’s sixth Fast Pitch event.
“The whole idea is for people who are doing great things in the community to have their moment in the sun so to speak, to be celebrated,” says SVP Tampa Bay Chair and co-founder Irv Cohen, a former Wall Street executive. “It’s a pitch contest and we jointly give out unrestricted gifts, but it’s really to celebrate people doing great work in our community. We shouldn’t just be celebrating Tom Brady or something like that. We should celebrate the people who really are influencing our lives.”
The pitch event itself, where a panel of judges picks first, second and third place while the audience gets to choose a winner of their own, is actually the culmination of an intensive monthslong nonprofit accelerator program that pairs the leadership of the participating nonprofits with partner mentors who have extensive nonprofit or business experience.
The Community Foundation Tampa Bay partners with SVP Tampa Bay on the program.
“It’s not just financial support but coaching for nonprofits,” says Community Foundation Tampa Bay CEO Marlene Spalten. “The partners are excellent coaches from all walks of life. They’re very experienced in leadership. The help and guidance they give nonprofits is invaluable and supports our investment in them.”
Community Foundation Tampa
Bay Senior Vice President, Community Impact Jesse Coraggio ranks Fast Pitch among his favorite events the philanthropic organization is involved with each year.
“It’s exciting,” Coraggio says. “Nonprofits get to take a second to brag about themselves and really learn how to communicate their voice. A lot of times, they are nose to the grindstone. They’re out there doing stuff to help people and they’re bumping into folks who are potential funding opportunities but they don’t necessarily have the voice to explain to them, ‘Here’s what I do.’”
The spotlight and cash awards of Fast Pitch night grab attention but working eight to ten weeks alongside a mentor with experience in accounting, marketing, strategic planning, grant writing or some other key area may be more important in the long-term for the nonprofits.
“I love the fast pitch concept and the moment in the sun but SVP is so much more,” Coraggio says. “I routinely send nonprofits to SVP.”
Nonprofits that do not win first place, or take home any cash prize, still get the opportunity to expound on their organization’s mission in front of a roomful of people who may decide to support them. In some cases, the event puts a nonprofit on the radar of the Community Foundation Tampa Bay, which provides competitive grant funding to charitable organizations across the region each year. In 2021, that was the case with Safety Harbor-based 360 Eats.
Fighting food waste and insecurity
After college graduation, Cameron Macleish was traveling the world backpacking when he discovered the phenomenon of dumpster diving. He was put off by the practice at first but soon realized restaurants and stores were regularly throwing out still-fresh food they could not sell.
When Macleish got back home to the Tampa Bay area, he decided to launch a YouTube channel featuring videos of a skilled chef, his mother Ellen Macleish, making gourmet meals out of discarded foods he gathered dumpster diving.
“I had this wild idea to expose food waste; it ended up blowing up,” Macleish recalls.
NBC’s Today Show and The Huffington Post covered the viral video phenomenon. Macleish saw an opportunity to do more.
“It was really cool at the time that we’re exposing the realities of food waste but it led us to want to create a viable solution,” he says. “Is there a way to prevent this food from hitting the dumpster in the first place and get it to people in need of food? We were volunteering at a couple of food pantries at the time and saw the reality of food insecurity in our community. We started doing our research.”
Macleish learned that, if he formed a 501c3 charity organization, restaurants and grocery stores would be willing to donate still-good food they would otherwise discard thanks to liability protections of the Good Samaritan law. Enter 360 Eats.
“We’ve been able to bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity, rerouting that food that would otherwise go to waste at grocery stores, food distributors restaurants, etcetera, turning it into meals and distributing those directly to people who would otherwise face food insecurity,” Maclesih says.
At last year’s SVP Tampa Bay Fast Pitch, 360 Eats pitched the idea of a food truck that would allow the organization and its volunteers to take meals directly into neighborhoods where people struggle with food insecurity. They finished third, winning $7,500. But Community Foundation Tampa Bay took notice and Coraggio encouraged Macleish to apply to the foundation for grant funding. 360 Eats won a $40,000 competitive grant to acquire a food truck - a converted 2003 P30 Freightliner outfitted with a commercial kitchen, oven, stovetop burners, flat grills steam tables a three-compartment sink and refrigerator to be exact - and start delivering meals to where the people are at in their north Pinellas County focus area.
The food truck hit the road a few weeks back and has served residents on a cul de sac in west Oldsmar, at a community center in the north Greenwood area of Clearwater and at senior centers. Cameron Macleish and Ellen Macleish of 360 Eats in the window of the charity's new food truck.
Without the grant, Macleish says 360 Eats would have had to follow a different, likely longer route to get a food truck on the road to serve these neighborhoods. But that was just one way that SVP Tampa Bay helped the charity prosper.
“To have this program in place where they assign you a mentor, work with you over a couple of months, help you refine your strategic plan, draft a really well put together pitch you can take into other areas of fundraising and overall really refine what you are doing and really run it like a business is amazing,” Macleish says. “I think that’s where a lot of the smaller nonprofits stumble. They focus on the charitable aspects of the organization, which is absolutely essential. That is why a nonprofit exists. But what we learned is it is very much a business as well. You have to think about sustainability. How are you going to support this in the long term with funding? So it really got those gears turning and made us think how we are going to run this as a business. How are we going to sustain this as we serve the community?”
For more information go to Barbershop Book Club, 360 Eats, Social Venture Partners Tampa Bay, and Community Foundation Tampa Bay