Nonprofit Gets New Yorkers to Stop and Notice Hunger

Hal Conick
Marketing News, Nonprofit
Current average rating    
Key Takeaways

​What? Nearly 1.4 million people face hunger in New York City every day. 

So what? Crossroads Community wanted New Yorkers to slow down and notice hunger with its Erase Hunger Project campaign​.

Now what? Marketers who want to make a difference should think creatively about their campaigns. In this case, Crossroads Community passed out a card instead of asking for a donation. 

​June 22, 2017

New Yorkers walk the streets in a rush. A marketing campaign by Crossroads Community Services aims to slow them down and make them notice the city’s hunger problem.  



New Yorkers are famously unyielding in their daily walks down busy sidewalks. There’s not much that can distract them from the goal of getting from point A to point B. Crossroads Community Services, a nonprofit New York City homeless shelter, food pantry and soup kitchen open since 1889, wanted to make New Yorkers stop in their tracks with its Erase Hunger Project campaign.

To help get New Yorkers to stop—or at least slow down—Crossroads worked with Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness to get New Yorkers to see homelessness and hunger anew. In the process, Crossroads wanted to motivate city residents to volunteer, donate or become aware of Crossroads Community. To accomplish this, Saatchi & Saatchi’s creative team aimed to make thinking about homelessness and hunger less disturbing and more relatable for the average New Yorker. 

Food was the obvious place to start, says Carolyn Gargano, creative director of art at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness. New Yorkers love food—there are approximately 24,000 restaurants in New York City alone—but residents often end up eating on the same street as someone who hasn’t been properly fed in days. To illustrate this point, statistics from City Harvest show that nearly 1.4 million people​—about 18% of the city’s population—face hunger every day.

“We were very aware of the haves and the have nots,” Gargano says. “So we thought, why not go to the source? Why don’t we offer something that’s surprising and different? We thought of doing a pop-up piece of art that could be put in any type of food festival, park or even a corporate event.”


Crossroads Community and Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness already had experience together getting New Yorkers to stop and take notice with their Street Fare Social Campaign, which featured illustrated faces with garbage and debris in place of a mouth. That 2015 campaign won a Shorty Award and helped increase donations and groceries provided to the hungry by 25% and 50%, respectively. 

With the Erase Hunger Project, Crossroads and Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness took a slightly different approach. Drawings were replaced by a pop-up installment that said “Erase Hunger,” with “hunger” spelled out by a series of bamboo utensil packets. Passersby could take these utensils on their way to eat at food fairs and open-air markets.

Those who took a set of utensils may not have realized that within the utensil packet came a card that showed where Crossroads Community is located. The card—which included a listing of breakfast, brunch and dinner times when the hungry could come get a free meal—serves multiple purposes: It is a stealth way to send passersby a message that people in their city are hungry. It also allows the recipient to hand the card off to someone else who is potentially hungry, at-risk or homeless so that they can be fed. 

Crossroads tested the campaign in multiple neighborhoods to see how New Yorkers would react before spreading out to more than 20 parks and food festivals. Gargano says the tests went very well regardless of the size of the installment, which ranged from a small sidewalk display to an 11-by-20-foot display in front of the Flatiron Building. The most successful rollout of the campaign may have been at food festivals, she says, where the Crossroads team was able to interact not just with New Yorkers who could hand out cards, but with the hungry population they wanted to serve.

Scott Carlton, a creative director and writer at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness who also worked on the campaign, says the act of handing the card off to someone in need of food serves as a way to find common ground and connect with New York’s hungry population. 

“Giving somebody something that they can use to feed themselves [helps you] identify with and feel like we’re humans together in this world just helping each other,” Carlton says. 

At the first food festival Crossroads participated in, 240 packs of utensils were taken within 35 minutes. People came up to the pop-up installment and chatted with the Crossroads team, took selfies with the sign and discussed homelessness and hunger in New York. 

“People may grab a utensil whether they use it or not, but we promoted discussion of handling hunger in the city,” Carlton says. “New Yorkers have a lot of opinions, so there was some deep, fascinating conversation with people going by. That’s one of our goals: to start the conversation, whether they hand the card out or not, and to allow people to feel like they are invited to participate in the discussion and take action.” Gargano says the card is also a way for the average New Yorker to connect with someone who is homeless or hungry and make them feel as though they are visible, as though they are a part of the city and not simply a stumbling block during a busy day. In the average daily rush, New York’s homeless population likely does not often have this kind of interaction.

“The simple act of handing someone a card and saying, ‘I see you and I care about you. Here’s something to help you,’ [means more than] dropping a dollar in a box,” Gargano says. “Everyone that we’ve known who has handed the cards out has been affected by that [feeling], and they’ve had a response of gratitude. … There’s a sense of love.”

This engagement is made easier by appealing to hunger as a human issue instead of using pictures of “sad homeless people,” Carlton says, as being hungry is something every human being can relate to. Gargano says the campaign is a reminder that people in the street are actual humans, not just inanimate objects to be ignored or a problem to be set aside for another day. 

“I find that New Yorkers are the most charitable, giving and kind people, but we’re busy,” Gargano says. “Everyone’s trying to race home to their families or their jobs or their responsibilities. We find that you tune out those in need and sometimes you don’t know what to do. You might give them a dollar, you might not. You hope that they’re getting help. The card is a wonderful way of empowering you to actually do something.”


The pop-up installments caught the attention of New Yorkers at every stop. Many people would pause to grab some utensils, others would stop to take multiple cards to hand out to the hungry and chat with the Crossroads team about hunger, Gargano says. 

After each pop-up installment, Crossroads Community and Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness would take photographs of the art and videos of the interactions, add a message and post to its social media accounts. In 2016, Crossroads Community saw a 150% increase on Facebook social engagement by posting photos, videos and updates from the Erase Hunger Project installments.  

More important than digital engagement, the number of people fed at Crossroads Community increased by 25% and contributions increased by 21% in 2016. In addition, the Erase Hunger Project won a Shorty Social Good Award for best health and fitness campaign and was a finalist in both the pro bono and poverty and hunger categories. Crossroads Community saw volunteers increase by 15%. Carlton says the campaign also helped bolster a fundraising effort by Crossroads Community that brought in $100,000—a lot for an organization of this size. While he does not directly attribute all of this money raised to the campaign, the fundraising effort ran during the Erase Hunger Project. In concert, there may have been a halo effect.

Crossroads Community’s Erase Hunger Project isn’t done yet. Gargano says Crossroads Community and Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness want to start moving the campaign into other spaces where people eat food, such as bodegas—which the rest of the country knows better as corner stores—restaurants and grocery stores.

“We’d love to go bigger,” she says. “We’d love it if Whole Foods gave [the utensils] out at the salad bar. It has been a very interesting social experiment and it’s ongoing.” 

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Author Bio:
Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @HalConick.
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