February 11, 2015

Anton Cobb Wants Your Lunch Money
Category: 2015 Event, Speaker Announcements

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Director Park is a popular spot in downtown Portland to take a break during your workday. With lots of restaurants in the area, and a food cart pod just a few blocks away, it’s a great place to grab a bite to eat and sit awhile to people-watch, read, or chat with a friend.

Chances are if you’ve been there on a Wednesday, you’ve noticed a guy in a suit sitting alone at a “fancy” table. Maybe you’ve wondered if he was selling something or if he was being stood up by a date. Maybe you’ve given him your lunch money, as many Portlanders have done.

The man in the suit is Chicago native and Portland transplant Anton Cobb. As he explains it, it all started as a simple idea as he strolled through Director Park on his lunch break one day: “What if I used my lunch hour to do something productive? What if we all did?”

The answer came to him not long after that, while watching a news story about a young girl whose family used the services of a food bank for the first time. Through this story, he learned how prevalent childhood hunger is — the numbers in the state of Oregon alone are staggering! 270,000 people per month eat meals from emergency food boxes. That’s half of Portland’s population. Of those, 92,000 are children. With just $10 (the average price of a lunch in downtown Portland) Oregon Food Bank can provide 30 meals.

anton-square2It was in that moment that the idea for hOURLUNCH was born.

Moved into action, last summer Anton decided he would give the idea a shot. He would collect donations for Oregon Food Bank once a week during his lunch break, starting with his own lunch money. On July 24th, he set up a table at Director Park, complete with a checkered tablecloth and a vase holding a single flower. Next to the table he set up a poster that read: I’m skipping lunch so that 30 children won’t. Will you join me?

He wasn’t sure where this idea would lead, or whether people would stop and chat or even make a donation. He just knew he had to try. So he sat there. On that first day, Anton’s hOURLUNCH raised enough money for 291 meals — donations from people who gave up their own lunch money for the day and skipped lunch with him. He had found a way to connect with the community and share his passion for addressing childhood hunger. Week after week, supporters continue to show up, giving the equivalent of 53,568 meals in just the first six months!

Anton will tell you he’s just a guy in a suit who decided to sit at a table at the park one day. However, the support from the community was immediate and overwhelming. The impact of his one small act has gained recognition and support on a national level, and shows no signs of slowing down.

In addition to appearing on the season premiere of the Rachael Ray show this fall, in which he made the first donation to her 9 Million Meals campaign for Feeding America, he was recently invited by the Ford Motor Company to film a segment for their Go Further campaign, which will air in February and will help kick off his efforts to expand hOURLUNCH nationally in 2015.

“My goal is to have one hOURLUNCH volunteer at one table in each state, generating donations and support for their local food banks,” said Anton.

This year, Anton is making hOURLUNCH a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. In 2014, the City of Portland offered their support sponsoring the weekly park permit. Anton is reaching out to U.S. Senators, city legislators and the First Lady to solicit the same consideration on a national scale. He’s even finishing a children’s book inspired by this experience.

“I’ve gotten to do a bunch of really exciting things for a cause that I am passionate about.  I have met incredible people and have had the opportunity to share my idea with the world. Suddenly I’m more than a guy in a suit. Not because I am somebody, but because I did something. Not because I had an idea, but because I did it!”

What strange, inspired, lingering idea do you have? What if an hour was all it took? What will you do with your idea?

Join us on May 2nd at Revolution Hall and hear Anton share what he has learned about taking a chance by bringing an idea to life, and what can happen next.

Ivonne Ward

Though Ivonne now lives in Seattle, she remains tight with the TEDxMtHood family, and this is her second year with the planning team. Passionate about people, volunteering and problem-solving, Ivonne is guided by curiosity and a desire to make a positive and meaningful impact in her community.