The key is to find that charity where giving to it makes you happier than going to a nice restaurant or buying a new pair of jeans…
Location: San Francisco, California
Profession: Lawyer by Day…
Can you share how you give back to your local community?
I bake muffins and give them to homeless people in San Francisco. While our homeless population is technically less than that of New York, because of our concentrated population the homeless are more noticeable.
I grew up near San Francisco and I truly love the city. When I hear outsiders coming in and complaining about homelessness, it makes me profoundly uncomfortable. These people speak about the homeless people as if they aren’t human–talking about them as if they have moral failings that have led them to be homeless. There’s a lot of lack of understanding of the homeless population, or really a lack of empathy. When I moved back to SF 4 years ago, I wanted to do something to help the homeless, but I didn’t know what.
What did you decide to do to help?
Fast forward to October of 2013. After post-Yom Kippur break-the-fast dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house, I noticed my uncle making muffins. He shared that he made them every night before he went to bed and ate them the next morning for breakfast. I had never baked anything in my life (except cookies from a cookie dough roll) but he inspired me to give muffins a try. For my first batch I baked a dozen apple cinnamon muffins. I couldn’t eat them all on my own, so I decided to walk to work the next morning and give them to homeless people.
The next week I baked two dozen, and had no problem finding takers. Now, I try to bake every Sunday night to have Muffin Mondays. Most of my “customers” are stoked that someone is taking the time to talk to them and give them something homemade—for the SF homeless population, the lack of food isn’t as big a problem as the lack of dignity, and any gesture where you are recognizing homeless people as human beings helps. People know me now. They see me coming and say “oh hey, it’s the muffin man!”
What’s been your next step after baking muffins?
On weekends I give walking tours of Haight Street called “Muffin Man Tours.” My target participants are folks in the new tech influx to the city who may not fully understand San Francisco’s past and culture. The tours are free, but I collect donations for local charities including Larkin Street Youth. Haight Street attracts a lot of runaways who become homeless, including LGBTQ kids who can’t stay with their families. This org provides them with food and clothing and resources related to education, counseling, and more. The org has become a huge success—in fact, Google just announced a major gift to them.
You give your time and money generously. Who and what inspires you to do so?
I went to law school. I had been interested in environmental law, but I knew if I wanted to pay off my debts quickly and save money I needed to get a job working at a big law firm. I had other friends who decided they would rather go into public interest law and do something they felt good about. These people love their jobs, even though they have little money. I feel like if I’m not going to take that path, I should donate. You can call it white Jewish liberal guilt if you want to. We’re all adults here. Point being: public interest lawyers and other people who are willing to live with financial difficulty in order to make the world a better place—these are the people who inspire me the most.
What other organizations are you currently supporting?
I tend to favor local charities over national ones. These days, Bay Area organizations are my priority. There’s Larkin Street House, of course. I also love Undercover Presents an organization that promotes Bay Area music. The Bay Area is expensive and we’re losing a lot of our musicians. I believe that having a local music scene promotes a strong sense of local identity and community.
In addition, I have a friend who teaches in an Oakland public school and I donate to his classroom projects through DonorsChoose. When I went to public school in wealthy Marin County, teachers did not have to raise money for their books – that’s the way public education is supposed to work, but it is not the case at my friend’s school.
When I worked at the big law firm, every year I’d do this thing I called “A Different Kind of Black Friday” in which I’d solicit ideas from my friends and family about where to donate money.I discovered a bunch of great charities through my Black Friday project. One of my favorites is Grow Dat Youth Farm, a local org in New Orleans introduced to me by a cousin living down there. Grow Dat teaches city kids to grow their own vegetables and it instills in them the values of self-reliance and self-respect. The org sells a portion of its crops to fund the farm, but the rest is donated to homeless people. When I last visited my cousin in New Orleans, she took me to see the farm—it’s a heck of an operation, pretty amazing stuff.
What is about local that speaks to you so much?
Local charities are more personal; there’s more of an incentive to donate when you can actually see the people you are impacting as opposed to sending money into a large country- or world-wide machine (with insane overhead). I also think that local charities can foster community—something everybody needs. A lot of local charities send personalized thank you letters. That means a lot to me—I appreciate them making me feel special.
What advice do you have for people to consider philanthropy?
If you are trying to find out where to give, start with people you know. I promise that you have at least one friend or family member who is involved with a charitable organization. Donating to charity has a pretty low (or non-existent) monetary return on investment, so there needs to be some incentive for you to donate your discretionary income to charity or else you’re going to spend it on something else. The key is to find that charity where giving to it makes you happier than going to a nice restaurant or buying a new pair of jeans.
ALSO, if you’re looking for a way to give in the very near future, it just so happens that January 26 is National Muffin Day, and it falls on a MONDAY this year! So get yourself to the farmer’s market and buy some fresh organic fruit, then go to local grocery and get some whole wheat flour, cage-free eggs and pure cane sugar, and bake some delicious treats for the needy. Then, take some pictures of your muffins and send them to Julia, she’ll post them on this blog (Of course, you can also use social media with the hashtag: #givemuffins). It’s a lot of fun and will make you feel awesome! Trust me.
Finally, what’s the most popular flavor muffin from The Muffin Man’s kitchen?
Banana. My banana muffins are like banana bread but with way more butter and sugar. Needless to say, the happiness quotient of my customers is off the charts!