Would you quit your job to help feed poor children around the world?
John Breen did.
Breen, of Bloomington, Ind., could be making a good living as a software programmer. Instead, the 42-year-old father of two decided to use about $20,000 of his own money and his computer skills to create a World Wide Web site devoted to collecting donations to feed hungry children.
As we come to the end of the millennium, I wanted to focus on someone who doesn't exemplify the stock-crazy, gotta-be-a- millionaire mentality that has befallen so many. When you have countless magazines asking "Why Aren't You Rich Yet?" it's wonderful to find people who aren't chasing after a buck.
That's why this summer I began a feature called "A Higher Value" to profile people who answer to a higher value than the color of money.
Breen fits the bill.
Breen created the Hunger Site (www.thehungersite.com), which joins a legion of other charity operations on the Web. What's different about the Hunger Site is that visitors don't have to buy anything in order for money to be donated to charity.
By clicking on the site's "Donate Free Food" button, people can donate a serving of rice, wheat or corn to a hungry child, at no expense to themselves.
The food is paid for by companies in exchange for advertisements on the site. Each sponsor pays half a cent for each "donation," which buys a quarter-cup of food. Late last week, for example, the donation page contained 11 ads, meaning each click bought 2 3/4 cups of food. Just think: One click a day and you can help feed some poor child. It's sobering when you realize that about 24,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes, and 75 percent of them are children. Breen illustrates this even further on his Web site. Every 3.6 seconds a country somewhere on the map displayed on the site flashes black, signifying that a person has died of hunger.
Since the Hunger Site was launched in June, more than 350,000 people have clicked each day, donating a daily average of 1 million cups of food. All donations generated by the site are given directly to the United Nations' World Food Program. To date, Breen said, this has amounted to nearly $400,000. About half of that total has gone to buy school lunches for thousands of children living in Ethiopia, according to Abby Spring, a spokeswoman for the U.N. program.
"This helps us so much because, as a large organization trying to make a dent in world hunger, it can be costly taking individual donations," Spring said. "You can become weighed down taking $2 checks, but the corporate donations we get from the Hunger Site allow us to feed so many. It's also a way to make people feel their click counts."
To ensure that as much money as possible goes to the food program, Breen doesn't collect any proceeds from donations. At one point, Breen did charge sponsors a fee of about 14 percent of the donation amount. But two months after launching the site he stopped asking for the service charge, and the site is now run for free.
"It just didn't sit well with me to take a percentage of the money," Breen said. "It just nicer to say 100 percent of the money goes to alleviate hunger."
That's pretty extraordinary, because Breen works full time to manage the Web site, where sponsors continually come and go. Thankfully, he has support from his wife, Patricia McManus, a professor at Indiana University.
Breen, a soft-spoken man who is modest about his charity work, said he initially just wanted to create a computer bulletin board that would allow people to donate school supplies to poor children around the world. But during his research he found that what many of the children needed first was food.
So, he contacted the U.N. food program, which invited him to Rome to pitch his idea.
"We just thought the Internet would be a great new tool for us in the fight against such a global problem," said Spring, who added that Breen does all of the work to manage the site, including lining up sponsors.
When Proflowers.com heard about the site, the Internet-based flower company made it part of its marketing strategy. Proflowers, one of the Hunger Site's longest-running sponsors, has already spent $100,000 on food donations.
"This just fits our values as a company," said Barbara Bry, vice president of business development for Proflowers. "Certainly there is a less expensive way to acquire customers, but we feel the sponsorship of the site is important. Frankly, I think what John is doing is amazing."
What Breen has undertaken is so remarkable that I just had to ask him how he could give up his job to take on such a huge project.
"I just saw that it could be done," he simply said.
While Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or by e-mail to singletarym@ washpost.com.