This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show. And we love your stories.
Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. And today we have Ben Berman's story. He's a second year MBA student at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. When the COVID pandemic swept this country, he got an idea to start making pizza and drop them out of his apartment window. This led to his nonprofit called Good Pizza that has raised over $30,000. Ben grew up in Portland, Maine with his parents and two younger brothers. Starting from a young age, Ben was getting involved in his community.
Here is Ben's story. When I was in middle school, I was on a school board subcommittee for wellness in the town. And one of the jobs that we were tasked with was renovating the cafeteria.
And so I actually spent the freshman year of high school touring local cafeterias to try to understand how we could improve our operations and food service. And as part of that program, the administration let me earmark $2,500 for a program that I had come up with called the Chef of the Month program. And my idea was that we would ask local chefs to take over our cafeteria for the day once a month, and they would serve their food at school lunch prices.
And it worked. So we would have, you know, a nice hotel from Portland come in and the chef would do paella for the whole school and serve it for $2.75. There was a local pasta company that came in every year to do the service. And the owner came in one day and his manager called out and he asked me if I knew how to cook and if I could help him on the line. And I grew up cooking with my mom and really enjoyed that. So I sort of felt confident enough to jump on the line with him and just serve pasta for the day.
And at the end, he said that was really great. If you need a job this summer, you should call me and that ended up being my first summer job was restocking the shelves and then grilling pita and then making meals in this little pasta prepared goods shop in South Portland, Maine. I went to college in Boston and went to Tufts University and found myself fairly heavily involved in nonprofit work. So there were a whole bunch of opportunities that I had started to get involved with to sort of give back to the community. At the same time, I was starting my first company. But when I was 18, I opened a food truck company with one of my best friends from home called Mainly Burgers. And we grew that company together for three years and grew it to three trucks and 16 employees. And it was a really great experience to start to understand how a business operates and how it grows.
It was getting me back in the kitchen. And I really loved the opportunity. But when I was coming towards the end of my college experience, I didn't feel like I was ready to make that my full time career. And so I took a more traditional route and went into management consulting for a few years after school.
That job landed me at business school. And when the pandemic started, I had been cooking more and I started to make pizza. And then I started dropping them out my window. And then I started asking people to donate. And now I guess I run a little pizza nonprofit out of my second story Center City, Philadelphia apartment.
And we've raised $32,000 so far and donated all to hunger relief and homelessness in the city of Philadelphia. I grew up with this amazing supportive family, and didn't have to worry about so many things that other people had to worry about. And it felt natural to use that platform to give back. I think one of the other things that motivated me was. So I think about it in two parts. The first is when I started making pizza.
And the second is when it becomes this thing where it's raising money and it's dropped out a window, etc. On the pizza front. Before school when I was working as a consultant I was traveling a ton was doing usually about 140 nights in a hotel per year. One of the things I missed when I was traveling that much was cooking for myself, and for friends. As I said, I grew up cooking with my mom and that was a really important experience for me generally just recognizing the impact of having people around the table and cooking for people as a display of love in some way.
And I wanted to do more of that, and then I had this more traditional kitchen experience from my first job from the food trucks, and I really just enjoyed cooking it's something that relaxes it's something that I look forward to, and coming to school and not having to travel all the time, I was looking forward to getting back into that. So I do remember when I first made pizza in my apartment, because I had been researching it for a little while and I had taken a leap and bought some equipment. It was just a food that I liked, and it's a fun analytical exercise to some degree as well because they're all these different variables of pizza that you can play with and I was excited about that. There is the hydration level and the dough which is how much water you're using and there's the fermentation time which is how long you're letting it go and what temperature you're cooking at what you're cooking it on and the combination of sauce and cheese and all these things all these variables that were interesting to me. So I remember making that for the first time, and being totally infatuated by the dough rising and then trying to figure out how to make it into actual dough balls that we can spread into pizza and researching how I wanted to do the sauce and going deep on message boards about my favorite pizza places around the country and people trying to recreate their favorite pizzas, and it was just a fun experience for me. So that's part one is I started making pizza in the summer of 2019 as a way to cook more as this fun project to work on and this fun thing that I wanted to solve for this food that I liked and that was sort of it. Stage two of the story is when the pandemic started, and the honest reason for good pizza at the beginning was, I had made dough for my friends, I, over the year had gotten more comfortable and I was enjoying having pizza parties and sharing that, and that weekend March where the pandemic sort of hit, and we didn't know what it was quite yet but we knew that it was a bad idea to have friends over for dinner party.
I had 15 pizzas in my refrigerator that I was planning to make for friends, instead of having them over I bought 40 feet of string on Amazon and told them that if they came by my apartment around dinner time I would lower them pizza outside my window, and it was nothing at the time, other than a chance for me to make my friends smile, give them something to laugh about it just seemed so absurd that I would be lowering this pizza out of my apartment window. And you've been listening to Ben Berman story, when we come back. Ben Berman story continues here on our American stories. If you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the our American stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country please make a donation, a monthly gift of $17 and 76 cents is fast coming a favorite option for supporters, go to our American stories.com now and go to the Donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's our American stories.com. Before we return to our American stories into the story of Ben Berman.
He's a second year grad student in Philadelphia. When the COVID pandemic started Ben created a nonprofit called good pizza that's raised over $30,000. Ben makes pizza in his home oven and lowers them down from his second story apartment window.
He asks for a non required donation, and his pizzas are completely free. We return to Ben for the rest of the story. So it was never a thought of this becoming anything. It was just this fun thing that you do to make your friends laugh and create some memory.
And there was no plan beyond that. But as I did it over the summer, I started to recognize that there may be a platform here that could grow a little bit. I had started to try to figure out where I wanted to direct my own giving for the year, which is something that I try to do every year. And my girlfriend very smartly pointed out that I was spending a lot of money on pizza ingredients and perhaps this would be an avenue to direct my giving instead, which is obviously a fantastic idea. And so, you know, midway over the summer, my thinking was, well, instead of giving a few hundred dollars to an organization that I care about, what if I spent that money on pizza ingredients instead, ask people for donations, and maybe turn that $200 into $600, or whatever that multiple looks like.
And there weren't a lot of zeros attached to it. It was just me thinking, well, maybe I can both make people smile and raise a few extra dollars for these organizations and would not be a cool way to spend this time where I have to be home anyway. Slowly, people started to hear about it. Friends tell friends and someone walks down the street and sees this pizza being lowered out of a second story apartment. And I had started an Instagram less for the actual business opportunity and more because I wanted a place to document my pizza, but was too embarrassed to post it on my personal Instagram.
The big break was when Barstool Sports came in November. So they have a very popular pizza review series. And I had tagged them in a post, mostly as a joke with friends saying how funny would it be if, you know, they try all the best pizza places in the world, and then they came to my apartment. And they ended up reaching out and said, Hey, are you open on Saturday. And I didn't really know what to say since it's just my apartment I'm never really open nor am I ever really closed.
So I said, Sure, I'm definitely open on Saturday and I would love to have you come by. And they did. So I made them pizza and the review went online the next week. And I think it came out well. But that was sort of the first chance for, you know, widespread visibility into what I was working on. Very quickly, literally overnight, it went from a few hundred followers to 10,000 followers and all this money started to come in from people that just wanted to support all you're doing.
And it just has sort of been a whirlwind that's been a total blast and definitely never something that I expected. I think the most I've ever made is 25. But a normal pizza drop is 20 pizzas, which I still think is quite a bit for a home oven. I can only make two at a time because I'm literally cooking in my home electric oven. So I make two pizzas every 15 minutes. So the way it works is I do weekly usually on Sunday night pizza drops with 20 pizzas. As the following has grown over the last few months, I've moved to a lottery system for people to get a pizza. So pizza is always, always free. There's absolutely no necessity to donate in order to get a pizza.
You do not have to donate to enter the lottery. The pizza is just to make people smile and hopefully people like what we're doing and feel inclined to donate either to us or directly to the organizations. I give every single penny that comes in a way so all the money that goes into the pizza ingredients, the sauce, the cheese, the dough, all of that, that money comes out of my own pocket, and then we donate 100% of the proceeds that people donate. I open up a lottery by posting on my Instagram two days before the pizza drops. So usually on Friday afternoon, if I'm baking that weekend, you can find a link to a lottery on Instagram. And then 24 hours later, after the lottery opens, I close the lottery.
We randomly select 20 people using Microsoft Excel, and I email those 20 people a form to select their pickup time. And they get to come by the next night to actually get their pizza. So it's sort of this whole three day process for me for every pizza drop where on the first day I make dough, on the second day the lottery opens and I start to make sauce. Then the third day you get all your ingredients together and then actually on the fourth day you actually make the pizza. I have to fold all the pizza boxes. I write little notes to everyone on all the pizza boxes. So it ends up being this sort of lengthy four day process, but it allows me to make an actual product, the pizza that I'm really proud of. I think the dough that I make is good. I think the sauce that I make is good, etc.
And it is the spacing out so that people can have a chance to enter the lottery and select a pickup time and all the backend logistics that go into it. And this has been an unexpected, but really fulfilling way to spend my free time. There are definitely days where I am tired and don't want to make pizza dough and don't want to fold pizza boxes and wish that I did not have Instagram followers that were expecting pizza.
There are days where I wish I didn't have to post on Instagram because I don't know what I'm doing and I'm trying to figure out all of that. But I feel like we're working on a good thing. I feel like I'm making some at least small impact and the support that people have lent, the smiles that I think I've been able to bring to people who have tried the pizza or even just seen what I'm working on on Instagram or in different press clippings. And most importantly, the dollars that I've been able to donate to organizations that I really do think are making an impact in people's lives. I don't really think I'm making an impact directly in people's lives.
I think pizza is delicious. I don't think I'm changing the world. I do think that the organizations that I'm able to support are making a massive, massive impact in people's lives. And so if I can play a small role by carving out some time to make pizza dough in order to support that, that's a no brainer for me that I'm going to continue doing as long as people are willing to support it. One of the things that I have been most excited by throughout this whole process has been the support from the community. I did not expect there to be so much support from everyday people who saw this online and wanted to support from local restaurants who have reached out to offer me kitchen space to make more pizza. And from folks around the world who have donated to us and said, I'm not ever going to be able to try your pizza, but I love what you're doing and want to support you.
Here's $25. That's incredible to me. There also have been fun opportunities to engage with larger brands that for me have been crazy and fun. So I mentioned Barstool Sports who was here to do a pizza review and that gave a lot of gave us a lot of Instagram followers and a big platform to raise money on the Philadelphia 76ers came over. So Matisse Deibel and Tobias Harris from the 76ers came to my apartment and tried pizza and donated $5,000 of their own money to the organizations that we're supporting.
Yeah, there have been big brands, but what I've been most energized by is just the everyday people who want to support in some way and who are commenting on Instagram to say it's wonderful and it made their day and they can't wait to come try a pizza. And I've told people that, you know, when I get asked about long term plans, the plan is just to keep making pizza until I make it for everyone who wants one. I talked about the lottery system for the last few months for the 20 pizzas that I give away weekly.
I usually have over 900 people that sign up for the lottery. So I'm going to just keep making pizza until all of those people get one. This good pizza project is something that I'm proud of because it was in many ways an accident. It was a chance for me to take a hobby that I enjoyed and give back to the community a little bit. And at this point, it feels less like something that I created and more like something that the people around me who have supported it created.
And I just get to be the vehicle to continue to create those files and raise those dollars. And a special thanks to Faith for her work on that piece and also a special thanks to Ben Berman for his story and, by the way, for what he's doing. And it just shows, well, it shows the good heart and the soul of this country. You can visit Ben's Instagram account at GoodPizzaPHL. That's GoodPizzaPHL. Ben Berman's Philadelphia pizza story here on Our American Stories.
And we're back with Our American Stories. If you've never donated your hair to the nonprofit charity Locks of Love, it's likely you know someone who has. Locks of Love is based out of West Palm Beach, Florida, and is known internationally for providing hair prostheses to children and young adults suffering from hair loss. Do you know the reason behind why Locks of Love was started?
Here to tell the story is the founder, Madonna Kaufman. When I was in my early 20s, I was an open heart nurse at the time in Louisville, Kentucky, and I experienced hair loss. The known treatment at that time was steroid injections in your scalp.
I got the treatment. My hair kind of came and went off and on for nine years. And then in 1997, 98, my daughter that was four and a half years old started to lose her hair, and I knew exactly what it was because of my medical background. Alopecia areata has no known cause and no known cure.
It's an autoimmune disease, and it can come and go throughout your lifetime. It has varying degrees. You can lose a spot here and there on your head. You can lose all of the hair on your head and your eyebrows and your eyelashes. And it really affects children and adults for that matter, but we focus on children because for that to happen to them when they're going through their developmental years really forms the kind of adults that they will be.
So they need something that gives them security and self-esteem. And my daughter that was four and a half, I got her treatment and her hair came back over a period of about a year. So the recovery of her as opposed to my recovery was the inspiration behind Locks of Love. I like to say that I probably should have got the message the first time that maybe this is what I was supposed to do, but I didn't.
And then when it happened to her, I got the message that, you know, you've been lucky twice and you should pay it back. I went out to several companies to test their product to see what was the best hair replacement product that I could offer to the children. And in the beginning, it was actually a little tricky because we had no office.
We had no staff. Hair donations were sparse. I had boxes of ponytails in my garage. And fortunately, the media embraced what we were doing and got the word out. And I have to attribute their telling the story over and over to the fact that we grew as exponentially as we did. I eventually got office space donated through a local hospital. So we saved money on rent. We didn't have to pay rent for several years. And then as time went on, we were able to acquire our own space and have our own office, which is where we are today.
I never imagined it would turn into this huge snowball that it did. And we're pretty much known internationally at this point. We aim to help any child that's living daily with medical hair loss. Today, probably 80, 75 to 80 percent of our recipients have a diagnosis of some degree of alopecia.
And the other 20 to 25 percent are cancer survivors. We have kids that have been through fires that had burn or trauma to their scalp that their hair won't grow back. We have children who've been a victim of dog attacks.
We had a child years ago that was attacked by a mountain lion and essentially scalped. So these kids that don't have hair, they don't want to go to the mall. They don't want to go to the movies.
Some of them are homeschooled because they've been bullied at school or simply because they just don't want to stand out. So coming from the mother of a child living with alopecia, I can tell you it affects the parents and the siblings. It affects the whole family because, you know, you get defensive. You don't want anybody upsetting your sister or your brother or your child.
This is the time that who they're going to be as adults is cemented. So we don't want them to be sad or depressed or afraid to go out in public and interact with their peers or strangers or adults that might say, oh, you know, I'm sorry that you have cancer or how, you know, why would you cut your hair like that? Those kinds of sometimes even innocent questions really upset the child and the family.
And it's something that a child shouldn't have to deal with. So if someone is wearing a wig, it requires double sided tape or glue to hold it in place and you can't get it wet. That would not suffice to give to a child who's worried about it falling off on the playground or, God forbid, a bully on the school bus pulling it off. So we elected to provide a prosthesis to these kids.
Each child receives a kit at home. It's got all the information and the tools they need to make a mold of their head. So that comes back to us and we provide that to our manufacturer. That creates a head block for them to make the hair piece. So it's silicone. So these prosthesis are very, very sophisticated.
They're made by hand. Sometimes we'll get hair that's been cut in a salon or a barbershop that's been swept off of the floor. Unfortunately, that renders the hair donation unusable to us because hair shafts have tiny microscopic barbs on them. So if we use a hair and it's implanted in a prosthesis upside down, it can create a tangle that no one could ever cut out. So we have to know the direction that the hair was growing in, thus our requirement that it's bundled in a ponytail or a braid when we receive it.
Because two inches of each hair is lost in the silicone base of a prosthesis, we require the hair to be at least 10 inches. It's tinted to match their complexion, so it looks like a scalp. It fits on like a glove. It can't be pulled off or fall off.
The seal has to be broken simultaneously at the temples. They can swim with it on. They shower and shampoo their hair just like you and I. So they're not afraid to go to sleepovers. They're not afraid to go swimming in the pool. They're not afraid to ride a rollercoaster or be on the gymnastics team. All those things that kids do get involved in and should be involved in. So because they're so sophisticated and they're made in steps from a mold of the child's head, they get a wig to wear while they're waiting. Because I can get that to them, you know, quickly in less than two weeks, but the process of manufacturing the prosthesis is four to five months. Seeing that smile come back to a child and seeing they want to go to school and they want to be involved, it just changes everything for the whole family. And it makes a tremendous difference in their developmental years because unlike adults, children are very resilient and once they get their prosthesis, they're right back in the game. You know, the boys are on the football team. The girls are on the gymnastics team. They're going to sleepovers.
Some of them don't even tell their friends or the new people that they meet that they don't have hair because as far as they're concerned, they do have hair. And we're listening to Madonna Kaufman telling the story of how Locks of Love was founded. And of course, it started with the personal, like so many of the great ideas and we do a lot of entrepreneurial ideas on the show and innovators. And sometimes they're for-profit, sometimes they're non-profit, sometimes they're combinations.
Our great hospitals are non-profits with for-profits bungled up inside them. And it all started with Madonna and her own daughter suffering from hair loss from alopecia. And so she went about trying to figure out how to solve this problem for kids. The self-esteem problems it caused, the confidence problems it caused.
And in the end came up with a really smart way to let kids become kids again and not worry about being bullied. When we come back, more of Madonna Kaufman's story, the story of how Locks of Love started here on Our American Stories. And we're back with Our American Stories and the story of Locks of Love, the non-profit charity that provides custom-made hair prostheses to children suffering from hair loss. And we're hearing from the founder, Madonna Kaufman. She's just told us of the intricate process that takes place in order to create the hair prosthesis for each child.
Let's continue with the rest of this story. During the first year in 1998, there were nine recipients. Those kids are now in their 30s. So they're our alumni.
I've been doing this for about 24 years. And I remember the faces that first year because it was such a small group and we were so happy with the thrill that we got from watching them change their daily routines and get back in the game. From that first year, we had a recipient that was 12 years old. And she had a lot of self-confidence, even though she had no hair at all. She had no eyelashes.
She had no eyebrows. And when she got her prosthesis, she was one of the happiest kids. She sent us pictures. She did braids. She did ponytails. And she would always send us pictures and thank you letters throughout the years.
Because once you're accepted in the Locks of Love family, these kids get a new prosthesis every two years until they turn 21. So over the years, we could watch her grow up. And when she got to be about 16, she decided to enter a beauty pageant. She sent us pictures from every aspect of the pageant, but when she was ready to do her talent, she dressed up as a genie. And she did a dance. And she did that without her hairpiece on. Because she had had a few years to wear the prosthesis and she developed so much self-esteem and self-respect that she had the confidence to do that.
And she won the pageant. Believe it or not, we have quite a few sets of twins. Sometimes both twins have alopecia. More often than not, one twin does and the other doesn't. So we have great stories about a twin who donated all of their hair to the twin that had alopecia.
And although it really takes 10 to 12 ponytails to make one prosthesis, we can't follow every ponytail to see who's getting whose hair. If we have a situation like that, and we have had, we make sure that ponytail goes to the manufacturer with the twin's name on it. And then that really, as if twins aren't close enough, that really binds them together. And it's an example of the win-win because the one twin sometimes feels guilty that they're not the victim. And that helps to relieve some of their, I think it's called survivor guilt in a way. It helps to relieve them of the fact that, gee, it happened to my sister and it didn't happen to me.
But look what I did to share in what she's going through. And each time it's a happy ending. You know, it's a really popular thing for kids to do. And once they've done it once, it's very, very common for them to grow their hair and donate over and over and over. It's a big thing for high school seniors to cut their hair before they go to college. It's another big thing for college graduates, you know, that are getting out into the workforce to say, you know, I need to have professional hair cut. I can't just have this hair all the way down my back. Amazingly, people that have been diagnosed with cancer and they know that they're going to lose their hair to chemo are so unselfish that they will cut their hair and send it to us before they lose it. So it's just amazing to see what big hearts people have that they would think of someone else, even when they're in a situation like that of cancer diagnosis, they would think of someone else before themselves and do something for someone that they're not going to get to meet. Many celebrities have cut their hair for us over the years.
One of the earlier celebrities was Sammy Hagar, a hard rock guy from the 80s. Shaun White, who was a snowboarder on the U.S. Olympic team, cut his beautiful red hair for us about five or six years ago. We actually had an astronaut on the International Space Station cut her hair and send it back on space shuttle.
So we like to say we're not just international now, but we're intergalactical. You know, they get to choose the color and they get to choose the style because when they receive it, it's long and it's all one length. So they have to get it cut while they're wearing it so that it complements their features.
It's interesting how they mix it up. Many of the girls will change from year to year when they get a new prosthesis. They decide they want to be a blonde this time or, you know, auburn hair is very popular right now. And we don't get a lot of red hair donations, but many of them do go from being a blonde to a brunette to an auburn. They do have a lot of fun with it.
Once they get confident and their self-esteem back, then they mix it up a little. A lot of people do think that there are satellite offices, there are chapters in different states and around the country. But truthfully, there's one office in the whole wide world and that's here in West Palm Beach, Florida. And we do have a full-time staff of five. And fortunately, we have lots and lots of volunteers that we couldn't possibly do without. Thousands, if you consider the hair donors, volunteers, and I do.
And we could never have done any of it without them. Every ponytail comes with a story. And it's very rewarding for us to see how much the donors get out of giving their hair to someone that they're never going to meet. And many of those donors are children, so it is a win-win.
Everybody gets some self-esteem out of doing something good, as well as being a recipient of someone's good deed. It's hard to get the mail opened because everybody stops to read the letters that come with the ponytail. And we have one wall in the mail room that's pretty much plastered with letters that come from children. You know, some of them might be written in crayon from a very, very young child. Some come with a whole booklet, a whole story about my haircut and the child that's going to get my hair. And it's just incredible to walk through our office and see a lot of the stories.
And we read every one of them, and working at Locks of Love is really, really rewarding. You or I can go out and volunteer at a food bank, or we can go do a 5K or something of that nature. Or we can even write a check and send in a check to donate to a nonprofit organization. But this is something that a little child can do. And it's not just spur of the moment. They don't just decide, oh, I'm going to cut my hair. A lot of them have to spend months, sometimes over a year, to grow their hair long enough to donate.
So they're focused on it, and they have to spend time doing it. And there's not a lot of things like that, if you think about it, that a child could do to volunteer or to be philanthropic. And it really is being philanthropic and teaching them from a young age to give back. I never imagined in 100 years that we would be able to help thousands and thousands of kids. And we have over the last 24 years. We have children in all 50 states and across Canada that are recipients of Locks of Love.
We have some children that applied when they were four and five years old, so they might have up to seven or eight prosthesis. By the time they turn 21, I feel like they're almost my kids because they've been sending me pictures and thank you notes for 16 years. We've never had a waiting list, thankfully. We've never had to ask a child to wait.
And I hope we never do. And for me, I'm a volunteer. I don't get paid. But it's one of the most rewarding jobs that I've ever had because the thank you notes that I get and the after pictures, because we love to get before and after pictures, it's just so rewarding. And I hope that and I think that I've made a difference in the life of every child that's been a recipient of Locks of Love because I know what it can do to to the child and to the family and anything that we can do to relieve a little bit of that stress and heartbreak is very rewarding for me. And I'm very proud of what we've been able to do.
And you should be. And we're listening to Madonna Kaufman, founder of Locks of Love, a terrific job on the storytelling by Madison Derricotte. And this is so typical of what Americans do. They solve problems. And sometimes a for profit solves a problem, feeding people, solving a technology problem, a service problem. And sometimes it's a nonprofit solving a problem. And as she said, she's helped thousands of kids get over their hair loss issues and get them back into the world and into life. This is the story of Madonna Kaufman, founder of Locks of Love, here on Our American Stories.
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