Female Founder : Connie Charney, Founder of Food for Thoughts Cards
Describe your company, product or service, business location and number of employees, and years in business.
Food for Thoughts Cards is a greeting card company that gives back. With the purchase of each bread-outlined greeting card, the cash equivalent of one peanut butter and jelly sandwich is donated to an organization that feeds the hungry. One card = one sandwich.
We believe that giving back is as easy as sealing an envelope. We believe that sending a greeting card and fighting hunger can go hand-in-hand.
Located in Morristown NJ, we are a small but mighty group. I am assisted by a recent Cal State LA graduate who handles social media and an intern who assists with outreach to organizations. Family and friends lend extra pairs of hands, especially during the holiday season, our busiest season of the year.
Tell Us About Your Company
Why did you start this company and when?
Food for Thoughts Cards evolved out of years of sandwich-giving. For twelve years I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to give to a homeless person on my commute from Morristown, NJ to Penn Station, NY every Thursday, on my way to New York University where I taught a course in the Department of Occupational Therapy. My impact, though tangible and gratifying, was limited.
I’ve also always loved sending greeting cards. I’m one of those people who send greeting cards for obscure holidays like National Handshake Day and off-beat occasions (the anniversary of your engagement). In an effort to take my sandwich-giving up a notch, I partnered it with my love of greeting cards and Food for Thoughts Cards was born. Launched in 2013, Food for Thoughts Cards was the perfect blending of my passions for sending cards and giving sandwiches.
What kind of corporation is your business? And why?
Food for Thoughts Cards is a social entrepreneurship. It’s an LLC that utilizes a one-for-one giving-back business model. Think TOMS, Bombas, and Warby Parker.
Did you have an “Aha” moment that made you create your product?
The idea had been brewing for some time, but upon returning from a bicycling vacation in Lake Champlain, I felt empowered to take a leap of faith. Basically I felt that if I could pedal up those hills, I could start a small business. As they say, “Vermont ain’t flat!” I knew that entrepreneurship would present the same uphill challenges.
Upon returning home, I sat at my kitchen table and sketched the bread crust outline for our greeting cards. The contrast of my fully stocked pantry when others experiencing food insecurity don’t know where their next meal is coming from clinched it for me. I contacted a graphic artist friend. She “got it” immediately and the design came to life in PB&J colors.
How did you come up with the company/product name?
We provide people with the opportunity to give a sandwich (food) when sending a card with a message (thoughts) so Food for Thoughts Cards seemed to be a good choice.
What were your initial goals?
I wanted to “up my game” from giving approximately 50 PB&J’s a year that I was handing out personally on the streets of New York City to donating (the cash equivalent of) 1000 PB&J’s a year to be distributed to organizations that feed the hungry. It seemed a lofty goal. But in our first year, the total number of PB&J’s donated by Food for Thoughts Cards was 5188. It would have taken me over 100 years to give that number of sandwiches during my once-a-week commute!
Tell Us About Yourself
What is your background and how does it relate to your company?
Seeing the world through the lens of my occupational therapy education means that I’m always looking at how people function and how they meet their basic health needs. It’s second nature to me. And the most basic of needs is food. Walking the streets of New York City, I saw firsthand the need for hunger initiatives large and small. My passion for fighting hunger grew. It may seem unrelated to my role as the founder of a greeting card company, but given a closer look, my occupational therapy education, work, and teaching experience are intimately connected.
What was your past career, and did you ever dream of being an entrepreneur?
I’m an occupational therapist. The practice of occupational therapy includes helping individuals find meaningful engagement in purposeful everyday activities. My work experience has been in mental health settings and in academia. Entrepreneurship? Not really on the table until 2013.
But wait… as an NYU graduate student, my BFF and I made patchwork quilt Christmas stockings and sold them door-to-door to shops in Greenwich Village. We were remarkably successful in funding our holiday gift-shopping that year. So perhaps a seed had been planted for entrepreneurship after all.
Did you experience an epiphany that changed the direction of your life to where you are now?
No epiphany, just a growing awareness that the 37 million Americans individuals facing hunger in the United States are not so different than you and me. One December morning (the kind with a chill that goes right through you) I offered a sandwich to a woman wrapped in a blanket on a street corner in midtown Manhattan. We made eye contact and she smiled sweetly saying “I hope it’s a tuna fish sandwich. I love tuna fish.” When I said no, it was a PB&J, she said that would be fine and began eating it before I crossed the street. Interactions like this one, expressing our shared humanity (and food preferences), have fueled my passion for fighting hunger.
How did you test out your product so you knew people would buy it?
We held unofficial focus groups with family, friends, neighbors and others who crossed our path during our weeks of development. It wasn’t very scientific, I know, but giving-back is about one’s heart. People loved our bread-outlined cards and organic designs in colors that are a subtle shout-out to peanut butter and jelly. They loved our message and supported our mission. That was enough to propel us forward.
What process did you follow to develop a prototype or service?
After sketching the bread crust outline on a napkin at my kitchen table, I needed the help of experts to move forward - a graphic artist, a lawyer, an accountant, a web designer, a printer, and other professionals with skills that complemented my vision. This team brought Food for Thoughts Cards to life.
They continue to be generous with their time and expertise, supporting the growth of Food for Thoughts Cards in a myriad of ways including purchasing and sending the cards themselves!
Were there any setbacks in product development that had to be overcome?
There were no setbacks worth mentioning, especially if you view product development and the creation of a small business as a process – and embrace the learning curve.
Was it more expensive to create than you originally thought?
How did you determine the price?
Our price of $3.25 per individual card was determined by our margins, of course, but far more by an image that I have long held in my mind. It’s the image of a child standing in front of a card rack buying a birthday card for a friend. I can hear the child saying “Let’s get the PB&J card that gives a sandwich.” I wanted the card to be inexpensive enough so that any little boy or girl and their family would to be able to purchase one of our cards. I wanted anyone with whom our pay-it-forward concept resonates to be able to join us in giving-back.
Did you personally finance your company – or did you have an investor?
Yes, my husband and I provided the start-up funds.
Were you right on target for your startup costs – or did you exceed your initial financial needs?
We were able to predict our start-up costs, the most significant being inventory. We started small by printing 200 each of eight card designs. Our greeting card line has now grown to 32 designs, all giving-back.
Through what markets are you selling (retail, wholesale, internet, specialty sales)?
Our cards are available for purchase in stores nationwide and on our website.
We also partner with schools for parent-teacher organization, club, or team fundraisers and with other organizations that wish to raise funds for their own purposes while increasing hunger awareness. As always, for every greeting card purchased, the cash equivalent of one peanut butter and jelly sandwich is donated to feed individuals in need.
How did you introduce buyers to your product?
I make cold calls the old-fashioned way. It’s our message that resonates with stationery buyers and store owners even before they see our card designs. Interestingly, many of the stores carrying our cards were suggested to me by friends and family: “I know a perfect store for your cards”. After telling our story, it’s love at first sight.
And here’s the best part… we think locally. When a store sells our cards, they are encouraged to select an organization that feeds the hungry to receive our donation. They may select a local organization or the hunger relief organization, Feeding America, with a network of over 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs.
For example, there’s a store here in Morristown, NJ that showcases products made in The Garden State and exemplifies community spirit and Jersey pride. With the purchase of our cards at Just Jersey, our donation is made to a soup kitchen right down the street, Nourish.NJ. Food for Thoughts Cards’ donation to Nourish.NJ for cards sold at Just Jersey has surpassed 4000 PB&J’s thanks to the “neighbors helping neighbors” mindset of store owners Tina Bologna and Paul Miller who are making a measureable difference locally.
What secrets have you learned in terms of publicity and marketing your product?
Honestly, our cards sell themselves. Consumers are looking for products with purpose. They want to be socially conscious consumers. Plus our designs are relatable. Who doesn’t remember the satisfaction of opening their school lunch and biting into a PB&J.
Store owners “buy” the mission as well as the cards. Upon hearing our backstory, a relationship forges. The owner of an independent book store in a small Massachusetts town told me that her father had founded the local food pantry located in an alcove at the YMCA around the corner from her store. She was thrilled by the opportunity to contribute to her father’s legacy by offering our cards to her customers. Consumers want to buy these cards and store owners want to sell them. Both for the same wonderful reasons!
Time Management & Personal Needs
How long did it take to get your product/service from idea to market (conception to product launch)?
The process was about six months. I reached out to professionals who I know and trust. That made a huge difference.
How have you managed to juggle the roles of business owner and family/personal life?
Not by accident, Food for Thoughts Cards came to life at a manageable time for me. My children are launched. My daily schedule is pretty much my own (I happily provide childcare for my two grandsons two days a week). My husband, who works full time in the pharmaceutical industry, is happy to lend an extra hand and some of my best ideas should actually be credited to him!
Juggling the roles and activities in my life is a pleasure. I’ve got enough wiggle room so that stressful moments are fortunately few and far between.
What are your hours?
In today’s age of technology, who can keep track of working hours, right? Although I try to work during traditional working hours, we live in a 24/7 world. In this regard, I’m proud that online orders generally ship the next day, and I personally deliver cards to nearby stores whenever possible. A personal touch goes a long way.
What drives you to keep going every day?
Of the many questions in this interview, this one is the easiest to answer.
One in 9 people struggle with hunger in the United States (according to Feeding America). That’s a powerful number and a huge motivator. If today one person is a little less hungry because of our efforts at Food for Thoughts Cards, that’s enough to keep us fighting the fight against hunger.
When you need a break, what is your go-to activity?
A break from Food for Thoughts Cards means one of two things: time happily spent with family and friends, or a book on the beach.
Your Journey and Success Stories
What has been your greatest success or "high point" in the process?
Two “high points” come to mind:
1) Our CELEBRATING YOU card was selected as a finalist in the 2018 National Stationery Show competition for Best New Product in the Cause-Related Category. WOW! In the greeting card industry where larger established companies have resources far beyond ours here at Food for Thoughts Cards, the possibility that our “little engine that could” had received such recognition was clearly a high point for us!
2) On a Friday morning in June 2019, my daughter texted me with a dozen OMG emojis. Katie Couric had posted on her Instagram that we won the #somethinggood contest co-sponsored by her daily Wake-Up Call and Life is Good. With 800,000 followers, the social media recognition meant that we weren’t headed to the beach that weekend. Traffic to our website surged and we filled card orders instead.
What was the greatest surprise in the process?
The greatest surprise has been how much Food for Thoughts Cards activities have enriched my personal as well as professional life.
Next 3 - 5 Years
Where would you like to be in the next 3-5 years?
I’d like to be out of business! That is because I’d like to see a world where we’re not fighting hunger “in the trenches” but through a systems approach putting large scale initiatives in place to effectively address the problem.
But realistically that’s unlikely to happen. So here at Food for Thoughts we’ll plug away and hopefully double our impact through the sale of greeting cards. Others will tackle the systems problems, but in the meantime we’ll lend a helping hand to people who face hunger here and now.
What is your absolute dream for your business? Work and grow the business, find the ideal partner to invest, or build and sell?
Continuing to work and grow Food for Thoughts Cards is the plan. We can and will count the PB&J’s that we are donating, but other equally important metrics of success and satisfaction cannot be measured. We believe we are raising awareness through our socially conscious efforts and sending a message, especially to the next generation, that products with purpose truly make a difference. My grandchildren are proud of Food for Thoughts Cards and understand our mission. That’s reason enough to keep it in the family where they, each in their own small way, can be agents of change in the fight against hunger.
Is there a resource that proved to be invaluable that you would like to share with other women?
In 2015, I was profiled by Women You Should Know® (WYSK®), a leading editorial platform with a highly engaged audience of men and women and a dynamic social network of over 400,000 followers. Co-founders Jen Jones and Cynthia Hornig are networking geniuses who support women across all walks of life and industries. They have been the single most impactful and invaluable resource to me in ways too numerous to count.
What was the best advice you received that impacted your business?
The best advice was simple advice: Start small and grow incrementally.
What advice would you give specifically to women who want to start their own business?
Start small and grow incrementally.
And surround yourself with cheerleaders who celebrate your work. Food for Thoughts Cards has many cheerleaders to thank, including Bergen County Moms + PowHER Network!
Food for Thoughts Cards
Connie Charney, Founder of Food for Thoughts Cards
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel : 201.919.2160
Website : foodforthoughtscards.com
Facebook : @FoodforThoughtsCards
Instagram : @FoodforThoughtsCards
Twitter : Food for Thoughts Cards @conniecharney