LifeGood News


How pizza is inspiring charitable giving

John Carruthers turned making pizza into a monthly fundraising effort known as the Crust Fund.
Posted at 5:00 PM, Jul 14, 2023

When the pandemic began, and so many were financially crunched, many feared there would be a drop in charitable giving. Instead, there was a spike, often in individual donations.

John Carruthers found that out when a spur-of-the-moment pizza idea turned into a reliable monthly fundraising effort, known as the Crust Fund.

"Chicago has always been a kind of a social barometer of how the country is going, how big cities are going," Carruthers said.

Every month, Carruthers uses homemade pizzas to connect beyond his kitchen and lift the neighborhoods of his city.

"The one thing that I found through 2020 and Crust Fund is how many good people with meaningful, social hearts that there are," Carruthers said.

There were a record number of charitable donations in 2020, as the world faced uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The record was broken in 2021, when contributions to charities were about $516 billion, according to Giving USA.

A rusted fence surrounds the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church.

Historic Black churches receive $4 million in preservation grants

Churches across the U.S. will each receive tens of thousands of dollars to aid in restoring their historic house of worship.


Noelle Sullivan, who teaches anthropology at Northwestern University, says donations usually spike during disasters and times of immediate need. 

"I think there's a lot of different ways people were just spurned to try to help," Sullivan said. 

In the pandemic's early months, Carruthers said he spent too much time on the couch and not enough on his community, so he started cooking.

"August 2020 was the first time that we did this, and we haven't really stopped since then," Carruthers said.

Once a month, Carruthers announces he will be selling pizzas at night. He makes them in the kitchen and gives them out in the alley behind his house. The cost is a suggested donation, which will go to a chosen nonprofit.

"That first month, we raised $501," Carruthers said.

Since then, Carruthers has raised over $50,000.

Bill and Melinda Gates smile at each other during an interview.

Are donations from billionaire philanthropists what they say they are?

While many agree those dealing in philanthropy have great intentions, skeptics argue whether charity from the wealthy is actually honest.


"We live in a quiet, quiet part of the North Side," Carruthers said. "It's got a rap as kind of just a boring, khaki-short-dad neighborhood. That's why I live here."

Minutes from the alley, neighbors wait at the Friendship Center, a pantry that has received several infusions from Carruthers. 

Justin Block, who runs the pantry, says his community has stepped up in a myriad of ways.

"They're setting up monthly giving," Block said. "They're seeing the value of that philanthropy. And I think it's through mechanisms like Crust Fund pizza that allow them to get connected to a nonprofit in a new and exciting way."

The question is: Will it hold? Giving USA's latest report shows charitable giving declined in 2022. Affluent donors remain dominant, but middle-income donors are decreasing. 

However, there is a bright side. Giving is still 14% higher than it was before the pandemic began.

"People have been so generous and amazing. They go above and beyond the suggested donation all the time, almost," Carruthers said, "That’s a feeling you can’t bottle, but you can put it in a pizza box."