make a difference

Pay it Backward Day is April 4

April 4 is Pay it Backward Day. In Toronto, the plan is to start a coffee line at Second Cup where you buy a “cup a Joe” for the person behind you.  It’s a fundraiser for the SickKids Foundation. Established in 1972, the SickKids Foundation is a non-governmental granting agency that promotes child health in Canada. Since its inception, SickKids have awarded over $500 million to The Hospital for Sick Children and over $60 million (an average of $4 million annually) to researchers across Canada.

Second Cup will donate 50% of every “pay back” cup of coffee to the foundation. Yea, yea, yea, you might argue, to paraphrase one blogger, that this is just another opportunity for a bunch of yuppie, expensive coffee lovers to spend a lot of money on a cup of coffee and feel good about themselves without making much positive impact.

Ok, I understand your point, but I have two responses: 1) every little bit helps – if 500 people show up (and that would beat last year’s world record, a secondary goal) and buy a cup of coffee for an average of $5, that’s $2500 with $1250 going to SickKids, not counting on the spot donors and remote donors via upstream video. It’s not a fortune, but it is valuable support for a worthwhile foundation. 2) Maybe a fortune isn’t raised, but for the people who take part, it’s also a community building moment. People support strangers who together support a good cause, thereby making everyone involved feel part of something good, encouraging them to feel good about themselves and helping someone else feel good, because you bought them coffee.  And there’s live music to entertain those standing in line and onlookers. It’s kind of a party really. The world gets a little smaller.  The community gets a little stronger. Everyone has a positive experience.

With all the day-to-day sniping and snarking we encounter, it just makes sense to do something positive, consciously, and it’s OK to feel good about that. Sure, Pay it Backward Day won’t solve all the problems the SickKid Foundation addresses, but, it will help a lot of people connect with one another for a good cause, create positive energy, and allow people to be more mindful, if just for the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, that they are part of something bigger, a community, where they might not know everyone, but where they can engage in common action to make their lives and those of others better. And they get to drink coffee while listening to music in the bargain. Not a bad deal from where I’m sitting.

Pay it Backward Day in Toronto is a great model. I hope it picks up in other communities as well! Some folks are talking about green events while others recount over 140 Starbuck’s customers who “paid it backward” in 2006. The possibilities are endless.

By the way, if you want to know more about the SickKids Foundation, here’s their web address: or on twitter @sickkids. You can also find Pay it Backward Day on twitter using the hashtag #pibTO or at:


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